Workouts That May Work Out For You: Today’s Tribute to Odanis Acuna

(Trainer Kenny McPeek and one of this exercise riders aboard Restless Rider at Keeneland this Fall / Photo by Gene McLean)

Every day, we scour the work tabs at racetracks all over the country.  We are looking for workouts that may be of interest and helpful to you — as both race fans and handicappers.  Some of the horses we will be tracking, you will know.  Some of them, you may not know — as of yet.  We will keep a keen eye and stopwatch to see who may be working well:

That first paragraph is our normal lead-in to our daily workout reports from around the country. Those are the words we use every morning to introduce you to the horses that we are watching; touting; reporting on and about. Those are the words that have become our norm — kind of like our normal dose of orange juice, since we don’t douse down coffee.

But those words are not needed today. Not on this morn.

Today’s work tab will not include any notes about horses. There won’t be any times to report. There won’t be any notes about how the horses performed, or how they returned to the barn. There won’t be any news about their next possible race to look forward to, and advance. There won’t be any cherry news.

Today, sadly and tragically, we will be honoring the life and talent of Odanis Acuna, an exercise rider who got up every day and travelled to Churchill Downs to ride, gallop and breeze Thoroughbred horses.

As first reported by Marty McGee, the outstanding correspondent for “The Daily Racing Form,” Mr. Acuna shockingly lost his life this morning when the horse he was riding — New York Harbor — suffered devastating injuries to both front legs while breezing at Churchill Downs and fell.

Mr. Acuna, who had worked faithfully for the barn of trainer Kenny McPeek for the past 10 years and also worked for a local horse-feed company, sustained fatal head and neck injuries in the incident, according to the initial reports.

Immediately thereafter, Churchill Downs announced that it was cancelling the rest of the morning training hours.

Marty McGee quoted Ken McPeek as saying:

“Obviously, everyone is extremely upset about this. Odanis was a fantastic person and one of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet. It’s a real tragedy.”

A tragedy, indeed. A. Real. Tragedy.

The entire Churchill Downs’ backside immediately turned somber, sad, and very dour. The normal chatter around the barns turned to silence. The wash racks were empty. The hustle and bustle turned slow, quiet, and methodical.

A good man and a horse had lost their lives.

And, it was a morn to mourn.

Not a morning to talk horses. Not a morning to walk horses. Not a morning to joke and joust. Not a morning to rejoice.

It was a morn to mourn.

I didn’t know Mr. Acuna, personally.

But I do know a lot of riders, who get on horses each morning to take them to the track and give them their daily ritual of exercise and lessons. I chat and joke with them, and get their opinions and thoughts. They may never get their names in the program, or get to ride into a winner’s circle. But they are as important as any person who has ever touched a Thoroughbred. Some of them, I get to know their names and their life stories. Some of them, I don’t. And, for that, I feel ashamed.

But, as a result of my other conversations and in a way, I did know Mr. Acuna. A man who gave his life to helping horses run. A man who gave his all to make horses better. A man who gave it all.

And, for that, I feel great sorrow.




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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