Exercise rider dies in training accident at Churchill Downs

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WBKO) -- According to a press release from Churchill Downs, a veteran exercise rider died early Saturday morning during a training accident.

Officials say 42-year-old Odanis Acuna was breezing an unraced 2-year-old horse named New York Harbor. They say the accident happened around 5:45 a.m. Eastern when the colt and Acuna suddenly fell about a sixteenth of a mile before the finish line when New York Harbor endured catastrophic injuries.

Onsite emergency medical technicians who arrived on the scene to treat Acuna believe he died instantly.

Acuna worked for trainer Kenny McPeek.

“Today is a somber day,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “We extend our deepest sympathy to Odanis’ family, friends, colleagues and the entire team at trainer Kenny McPeek’s barn. Our hearts are with them in this difficult time of extreme sorrow.”

Known to his racetrack friends as “Cuba” – a nod to his native homeland – Acuna is remembered by friends as a tireless worker who was dedicated to improving the life of his family.

Officials say this is first known training accident at Churchill Downs that resulted in the death of an exercise rider in several decades.

Training at Churchill Downs stopped Saturday morning shortly after the accident. A moment of silence will be observed Saturday afternoon in Acuna’s honor prior to Saturday’s first race scheduled for 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

Funeral arrangements, a memorial service and fundraising efforts for the family are pending.

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