LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - An exercise rider is dead after an accident during early morning training at Churchill Downs on Saturday.
Odanis ‘Cuba’ Acuna, 42, was riding un-raced two-year-old New York Harbor before 6 a.m. Saturday when officials say the horse endured ‘catastrophic injuries' and fell one sixteenth of a mile before the finish line.
Onsite emergency medical technicians arrived on the scene and said Acuna died instantly.
Acuna--known fondly by his racing family as “Cuba” after his home country-- was incredibly dedicated--and always had a smile on his face.
“He was just a wonderful, wonderful person,” said Sherry Stanley, Executive Director of the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs. “His entire existence was focused on bringing his wife and three sons from Cuba to here in Kentucky. He was just about to finish the process of purchasing a home and the immigration paperwork to get them green cards.”
Acuna worked for trainer Kenny McPeek for the better part of a decade. McPeek remembered Acuna as a dedicated, hard-worker.
He came to work as an exercise rider in the morning, and when training would conclude at 10 a.m., Odonis would go to work for a feed company and work until about 6 or 7 in the evening, never complaining about it--and did it each and every day
Darren Rogers said Kenny McPeek’s barn six team is still reeling after losing a friend and teammate of close to ten years.
“Kenny spoke very highly of him put him he put him on many of his best horses he said he could get on any horse handle any horse no matter the horses quirks,” Rogers said.
According to a release from Churchill Downs, this was the first known training accident at Churchill Downs resulting in an exercise rider’s death in several decades.
A moment of silencewas held at 12:30 p.m. to honor Acuna before afternoon races started. Funeral arrangements and a memorial service are in the works.
A GoFundMe has been set up by Kenny McPeek to help with those funeral arrangements as well as to help Acuna’s family and their future.