Track worker went into water to save race horse that drowned

Turtlecreek Twp. Assistant Fire Chief Mike Jameson tending to dive gear used on Monday night to recover the horse drowned in a pond during a harness race at the Miami Valley Gaming racino. STAFF/LAWRENCE BUDD
Turtlecreek Twp. Assistant Fire Chief Mike Jameson tending to dive gear used on Monday night to recover the horse drowned in a pond during a harness race at the Miami Valley Gaming racino. STAFF/LAWRENCE BUDD

A tactical rescue dive team was needed to locate the body of the horse that drowned Monday during a harness race at Miami Valley Gaming.

The Warren County Tactical Rescue Team arrived at the racino on Ohio 63 on Monday night after racing had concluded, according to Mike Jameson, assistant fire chief in Turtlecreek Twp.

“We were called primarily to recover the horse,” Jameson said.

No additional official reports were available Wednesday about the unusual drowning of He’s a Perfect Ten, which followed an accident involving four horses and drivers during the 12th race.

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But independent reports continued to provide additional information about the animal’s death, which happened despite efforts by Ashley Holliday, the “outrider” working Monday, to save the horse.

Holliday, on the track to parade the entrants beforehand and to assist with problems during the race, caught the errant trotter after driver Kayne Kauffman was knocked from the sulky cart, horse owner Jeff Deems said Wednesday.

But He’s a Perfect Ten broke free and ran into the retention pond in the infield, still pulling the cart, and drowned despite Holliday’s attempt at a water rescue.

“When the horse first went in, it stopped at the shallow part of the water,” said Deems, whose horse was also involved in accident.

Holliday then jumped in.

“She had the horse’s head above water for a little bit. She was doing her best, but then as the horse started to struggle and fight, it worked its way to toward the middle of the pond,” Deems said. “If it would have worked it’s way the other way or stayed shallow, she could have maybe helped it or something could have went a little bit different.”

It remained unclear if Kauffman was transported to a hospital for treatment. Deems said Kauffman had back and knee injuries.

“Thoughts and prayers with Kayne and everyone involved,” Deems said.

There was no 911 call or ambulance dispatched, according to county and township officials.

Jameson said the dive team spent more than an hour searching the retention pond for the horse.

Starting about 8 p.m., four divers rotated in two-person teams due to the cold water and difficulty of navigating underwater in the darkness.

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“You might as well close your eyes, you can’t see anything,” Jameson said.

Although racino staff told the divers where the horse went down, locating “something even as large a horse” was difficult, Jameson said.

About 9:15 p.m., staff used a winch to pull the body, strapped by the divers, from the lake, Jameson said.

On Wednesday, Jameson was wrapping up the cleaning and reorganization of the dive gear.

Jameson, a township firefighter for more than two decades, said this was his first time with the dive team recovering a dead horse.

He said the team had rescued live horses, cows and dogs after they fell through ice and had recovered human bodies, but this was the first dead horse.

“It’s an unfortunate incident,” he said. “We’re there to help out the community any way we can.”

On Tuesday, Bill Crawford, executive director of the Ohio State Racing Commission, said, “Maybe it’s never happened before in Ohio.”

Crawford, who has worked for 23 years for the commission, could not be reached Wednesday for an update on his agency’s review of the incident.

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Four horses were involved in the accident, as they headed for the finish line, caused when the horse Medoland Brutus broke stride, causing three others to collide in a chain reaction, according to multiple reports.

Tracks typically have unfenced retention ponds, like the one in which the horse drowned, where water running off the banked racing surface collects, according to Crawford.

Jerry Abner, director of marketing at the racino, issued a statement Tuesday.

“An unfortunate accident occurred during the day’s live harness racing meet that resulted in the death of a horse. The horse became spooked and ran into a pond at the track where it drowned despite efforts by MVG staff to save the animal.”

Abner declined to respond to further questions Tuesday and could not be reached Wednesday.

“The safety of our staff, harness racing drivers and the horses is always of utmost concern at Miami Valley Gaming. We regularly review safety procedures and protocol and will continue to do so,” Monday’s statement continued.

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Joining the rescue team divers were fire and rescue staff from Turtlecreek, Salem, Harlan and Deerfield townships and the city of Lebanon, according to Jameson. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office was also on the scene.

Xenia driver Dan Noble said he was guiding another horse ahead of the accident. He described the harness racing community as a competitive family.

“Things do happen, unfortunately,” Noble, a fourth-generation horseman, said.

News Center 7 reporter John Bedell contributed to this report.