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‘We’re going to ride for him today’: Friends, community honor jockey killed at Prineville horse race

(Update: adding new video, new info, comments from friends and fellow jockeys)

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) – Tragedy struck in the first race of the return of the Crooked River Roundup Horse Races Wednesday evening when a jockey was thrown from his horse as it hit the railing and was fatally injured, authorities and witnesses said. Friends remember him as a family man and a talented rider who always had a smile on his face and loved the color pink.

The accident, which occurred about 7:40 p.m. Wednesday, claimed the life of jockey Eduardo Gutierrez Sosa, 29, who was thrown from his horse and died from injuries sustained in the fall, Prineville Police Captain Larry Seymour said.

"It's hard for some of us," said Dustie Crystal, one of his long-time friends. "Some of us just want to go home and not have the rest of the race meet. But we all know that, Sosa being the person he is, he'd want us to stay."

Doug Smith, the director of racing, said, “To think that a young man lost his life last night just leaves us heartbroken to no end."

Smith said the horse Gutierrez-Sosa was riding was an inexperienced 2-year-old, Godfather Advice, which had raced just once before, on June 15 in Grants Pass, finishing last. Gutierrez-Sosa and his wife trained the horse together since it was a baby.

The rest of Wednesday night's races were canceled out of respect for the fallen jockey.

The Prineville Police Department and the Oregon Racing Commission are conducting a joint investigation into the accident, Seymour said.

“It’s one of those things that doesn’t happen," Smith said. "It’s never happened here. We are just absolutely heartbroken. This just leaves us totally saddened.”

Crystal said, in a similar tone, "It's not something that usually happens. I mean, it's a one-in-a-million shot that it even happened."

Crystal and some of Gutierrez-Sosa's other friends said he was a one-in-a-million kind of guy, who could light up a room with his smile.

Jennifer Abraham said, "I don't think I ever saw a moment that he wasn't smiling. His smile was so huge."

Jose Figueroa, Gutierrez-Sosa's friend and fellow jockey, said, "He would turn and look at you with a smile on his face."

Crystal added, "He was always smiling. He always made us laugh."

Gutierrez-Sosa was born in Mexico, but was a long-time Oregon resident. He had a wife, Rosa, and three children, ages 4, 8 and one in high school.

Abraham told NewsChannel 21 Gutierrez-Sosa and his family had just sold their apartment in Hermiston and bought a fifth wheel to move to Grants Pass.

His wife, though, saw that dream, and her husband, get taken away before her eyes on Wednesday, while riding the horse they had trained together.

“She was on the race track when it happened,” Abraham said. “My heart breaks for Rosa that that's her last time with him. I hope she cherishes the memories they had together."

Fans will remember Gutierrez-Sosa as the man who wore pink. It was his favorite color, and his trademark on the track.

All jockeys have a barn color. Abraham said Gutierrez-Sosa chose pink because no one else wanted to wear it. On Thursday night, you couldn’t find a competitor who wasn’t wearing the color pink, as they honored their fellow jockey and friend.

That included Jose Figueroa, who viewed Gutierrez-Sosa as more than just a friend.

"It's hard to describe but, I feel like I lost my brother,” he told NewsChannel 21. "We're going to ride for him today."

Race organizers were accepting donations from spectators on Thursday. NewsChannel 21 learned they raised more than $16,000, which doesn’t include donations made at the box in the betting area.

There’s also a GoFundMe page that was set up to help Gutierrez-Sosa’s family cover funeral expenses.

"Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the family, fellow riders and friends of the family," the police captain added in a news release.

Seymour noted that several citizens donated their tickets from Wednesday night's races to the family.

"The races will continue this week," he said, "and there will be donation buckets located at the betting windows for those that would like to contribute to his family."

Attendee Challey Becker, sitting on the north end of the grandstands, said the first race of the four-day meet, which was called off last year due to COVID-19, started late because the jockey’s horse “seemed a bit agitated…. wasn’t listening” to the rider.

Another audience member, Julie Story, said the horse “seemed to have trouble calming down and took off with the jockey as they walked before the race started.”

The first race was short, just 250 yards, and midway through, witnesses said the horse went up against the railing and the rider fell off, and possibly hit the railing.

The horse racing site Horse Racing Nation said Gutierrez Sosa had ridden more than 2,500 starts at small tracks around the Northwest and in nearby states.

The website said a video from the grandstand showed Gutierrez Sosa losing control of his horse, who had space for himself in mid-pack when he skimmed the rail. The rider may have landed head-first on the infield side of the rail.

Becker told NewsChannel 21, “It looked like he (the jockey) hit the railing, and when he hit the ground, he didn’t move.”

The second race was delayed a half-hour, and after that race took place, the sad loudspeaker announcement was made by Smith, who said racing was canceled for the night. Smith told the packed grandstands crowd that the Roundup board was heartbroken by what happened, also noting it was the first time in his more than 40 years with the event that a jockey had died.

Smith also told the audience that they could return for Thursday evening's race, with their Wednesday admission wristbands, and attend for half-price.

While bettors at the pari-mutuel event could seek a refund, social media reports indicated many on hand Wednesday night instead lined up to donate the money to the jockey’s family.

The Crooked River Roundup board met Thursday morning to discuss what occurred and how best to proceed. Many who had been on hand said they expected a tribute to take place.

“It was shocking and sad to see this happen,” Story said. “Such a sad, sad event. I feel terrible for the jockey’s family.”

“Racing and being a jockey are risky things,” Becker said. “This was an unmistakably tragic accident.”

Article Topic Follows: Accidents and Crashes
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Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.

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