Exercise rider dies after training accident at Woodbine Racetrack

TORONTO — Darren Fortune, a longtime rider at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack, was remembered Friday as a thoughtful, hard-working individual who had a passion for working with horses.

Fortune died after a morning training accident on the facility’s main track, Woodbine Entertainment Group said in a statement. He was 43.

“He was always a guy with a smile on his face, very polite, very humble,” said trainer Kevin Attard. “I’ve never seen him in a confrontation with anybody. Just a good guy. It’s hard to fathom what happened today.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused Fortune’s horse to dart sideways into another horse that was moving in the opposite direction by the outside rail. The Ministry of Labour and other officials were investigating.

“The horse for some reason bolted,” said Jamie Martin, WEG’s executive vice-president of racing. “There was a strange collision and he unfortunately passed from his injuries.”

The facility is quite busy in the morning as exercise riders put horses through workouts of varying intensity levels in training for upcoming races. Attard said it was very unusual for an incident like this to occur.

“The odd time something happens,” he said. “It’s almost the equivalent of getting into a car and driving to work. You can do it every day, and one day maybe somebody runs a red light or goes through a stop sign. Unfortunately today Darren was killed. It’s a sad day for everybody at Woodbine.”

Horses often run in opposite directions during training, but they are not that close to each other. It’s common for riders to work out their horses on the inside rail while other horses gallop the other way towards the start area.

However, if an animal is startled, it can sometimes cause a panicked, sudden acceleration in an unexpected direction.

“They spook very easily, I’ve seen Canadian geese fly away and startle horses,” Attard said. “They could be walking on the ground and they just take flight and the horse will be spooked … sometimes somebody can open up a (garbage bin) lid and drop it unintentionally, and just that noise of it banging can startle a horse.

“It doesn’t take much.”

Fortune, originally from Barbados, spent long days at the racetrack, arriving before the 6 a.m. opening to work as an exercise rider for the morning session. His outrider duties — which included assisting and protecting jockeys and horses during races — lasted from lunch hour until the early evening.

Attard said the positions could be compared to a bullpen catcher in baseball — an important role but one that does not come with the spotlight that others at the track may enjoy.

“You have to love what you’re doing,” he said. “Obviously he had a very strong passion for horses.”

The other rider and the two horses were not hurt.

The eight-race program was cancelled Friday.

Black armbands will be worn by jockeys, valets, gate crew and others when racing resumes Saturday, WEG said. Following the seventh race, outriders will congregate on horseback at the finish line to lead a moment of silence with members of Woodbine’s racing community.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our community this morning and our hearts and condolences go out to his family and friends,” Martin said.

Attard spent years working in the same barn as Fortune and got to know him quite well.

“I had a horse pass away a couple weeks ago and he was there on the track to console me,” he said. “I appreciated it a lot.”

Jockey Sunny Singh knew Fortune for 20 years and said he was “very shocked” to hear about the incident.

“When I first heard the news I thought it was a joke,” Singh said. “Then it kicked in about a half hour later, and then my heart fell apart. I knew him very well, to just lose a good friend like that is very hard.”

Singh added that Fortune was a “very genuine” human being who never had a bad word to say about anyone.

“He was very helpful, doesn’t do a thing wrong,” he said. “It’s horses and these things do happen. Unfortunately it happened to a really good man today.”

There was no immediate word on Fortune’s family details. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Just Posted

Relatives of murdered family critical of killers’ sentences

Open letter to sentencing judge criticizes ruling allowing killers to apply for parole in 25 years

City rolling out Green Carts

Green Carts used for organics, such as yard waste, food scraps and pet waste

New teaching standards applauded

New code of standards affecting teachers, principals and superintendents to kick in Sept. 1, 2019

UPDATED: Agriculture minister speaks to cattle producers

2018 Alberta Beef Industry Conference underway in Red Deer

Updated: Red Deer gets WHL Bantam Draft and Awards Banquet

WHL will holds its draft and awards ceremony in Red Deer for next three years

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Twenty years later, figure skating’s most famous backflip remains amazing (and illegal)

Figure skating involves spins, jumps, twizzles and a whole host of other… Continue reading

You don’t need to chop like a TV chef to get the job done

Standing in line at the emergency room, makeshift bandage around my finger,… Continue reading

Seychelles swaps debt for groundbreaking marine protection

CURIEUSE ISLAND, Seychelles — With deep blue waters, white sand beaches and… Continue reading

Trump endorses raising minimum age to 21 for more weapons

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump endorsed stricter gun-control measures Thursday, including raising… Continue reading

Red Deer blood clinic in need of 600 donors

Aunt encourages Central Albertans to donate blood after losing nephew

Court considers banning diesel cars in German cities

BERLIN — A German court began considering Thursday whether authorities should ban… Continue reading

US women beat Canada in Olympic hockey; Gisin tops Shiffrin

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — A tense shootout, a dazzling deke and… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month