A Photo Tribute to Odanis Acuna: By Holly M. Smith

A lot of mornings, Holly M. Smith goes to Churchill Downs and spends a few hours before heading off to her “regular job” downtown. Nobody makes her do it. Her love for the industry, the sport, and the horse gets her up early and she loves to do it.

Along her life’s travels, she gets to see a lot of people up close and personal. Through the lens of her camera, she can capture the heart and soul of Thoroughbreds. She gets to zoom in close. She gets to look right into the eye; into the soul.

But she can also see a lot of people. And, she gets to see a lot in people.

One of those people was Odanis Acuna.

This morning, Odanis Acuna was working an unraced 2-year-old — by the name of New York Harbor — at Churchill Downs. Suddenly, at the end of that breeze and about 5:45 a.m. this cold morning, something unthinkable happened. The horse sustained injuries to both front legs, and went down. Along with the horse went the rider — Odanis Acuna.

Neither one survived.

Now, sadly, only the photos and memories remain.

Here are some of the memories that Holly M. Smith was able to capture. With her camera. In her dark room, and edit space. In her memory bank.

(Odanis Acuna, in the yellow tee shirt, exercised horses for the barn of Ken McPeek for over 10 years. After each morning, he would rush to his “other job” at a Louisville horse fee store. He saved as much money as he could to someday have enough to bring his wife and children from his native Cuba to live in America. On Saturday morning, that dream was crushed. Photos by Holly M. Smith)

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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