Exercise Rider and Horse Dead After Training Accident at Churchill Downs

Odanis Acuna

A longtime exercise rider and the horse he was riding both died after a training accident early Saturday morning at Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville.

Odanis Acuna was “breezing,” or gently working out, 2-year-old colt New York Harbor just before 6 a.m., when the horse broke down about a sixteeth of a mile from the finish line. The horse broke either one or several bones in his leg and Acuna sustained fatal injuries to the head and neck during the fall, trainer Kenny McPeek told racing magazine Blood Horse.

On-site emergency workers arrived quickly to treat the rider, Churchill Downs said in a news release, but they “believe he died instantly.” Acuna was 42.

“He was a good man — a very good man,” McPeek told Blood Horse. “It’s not an easy day. Just a really bad day. Our heart was swallowed.”

Churchill Downs halted training after the accident. The track held a moment of silence before the afternoon’s first race at 1 o’clock.

Acuna was a native of Cuba who had worked for McPeek for close to a decade. Churchill Downs officials said he was focused on saving money to bring his wife and three sons, including twin boys, from Cuba to Kentucky. He was in the process of purchasing a home and completing immigration paperwork for the move.

“He was just a wonderful, wonderful person,” Sherry Stanley, executive director of the Backside Learning Center at the racetrack, said in the release.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Jacob Bogage