Horse racing community mourns loss of exercise rider at Keeneland

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – The horse racing world is mourning after exercise rider Callie Witt died Friday morning in a freak accident at Keeneland.

The 20-year-old was thrown from a horse on the riding track just after 8:00 a.m.

The horse racing community is tight-knit, and they all have the same passion for horses and racing.

“You just had an idea about what kind of person she was. There was that passion that’s hard to describe,” horse racing commentator Kenny Rice said.

Rice will tell you people who work in the horse racing industry have a dedication like no other. Stories about Callie prove she was no exception.

“No one that I know has ever hung around the racetrack that doesn’t really have a love for it,” Rice said.

Callie, who was from Nebraska, was studying at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Keeneland officials say she wanted to be a jockey, first working as an intern and then full-time as an exercise rider.

“It’s generally not a profession that you get rich in. You hear about the top jockeys and top trainers, but the everyday worker at the track, the exercise rider, they’re not retiring early doing what they do, so it truly is a love thing for them,” Rice said.

It’s a love for a sport that comes with risks. Tragedies like what happened to Callie are rare, and a reminder of how precious life is.

“The only sport I know of where an ambulance follows the participants is a horse race. No matter what size horse race, all over the country. That just shows you there is that risk out there. When something like this happens, it magnifies that. It’s been very rare for something like this to happen at Keeneland,” Rice said.

Now friends, family and the racing industry are taking time to remember a hard-working young rider and her passion for the ponies.

WKYT asked Rice if this tragedy should lead to any safety changes or improvements. He said it seems that this was a rare accident that might spark some talk, but doesn’t believe it to be an indictment on the danger of the sport. He said people in the industry understand that risk.

We also talked to a longtime friend and fellow rider of Callie’s.

“She was working toward quite the dream that she was starting to live,” friend Jessica Condon said.

Friends of Callie said she was riding horses pretty much her whole life, showing it wasn’t just a passion, but her way of life.

“She always was upbeat and had a smile on her face. She was one of the most hardworking people that I know,” Condon said.

We’ve received several statements about Witt’s death.

Governor Andy Beshear posted this statement on Twitter:

Britainy and I extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends and the entire horse racing community over the tragic loss of exercise rider Callie Witt. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Witt family.

Representative Andy Barr also released a statement:

“This is a devastating tragedy that no family should ever have to endure. Please join me in praying for the family and friends of Callie Witt.”

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