LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Investigators are trying to uncover clues in the mysterious death of a track worker whose body was found in a horse stable just a matter of hours after I’ll Have Another was crowned champion of the Kentucky Derby.
Autopsy results were expected later Monday for 48-year-old Adan Fabian Perez, whose body was found Sunday morning in the back portion of Barn No. 8. That’s just a few barns away from where I’ll Have Another was stabled.
Authorities have no suspects but stressed that Perez’s killing had no apparent connection to the iconic horse race.
Louisville Police Lt. Barry Wilkerson said investigators are asking witnesses to come forward. There were several altercations in that area of Churchill Downs on Saturday night, and police are trying to determine if Perez’s death is connected to any of them, Wilkerson said.
Perez was a native of Guatemala and lived at the track’s quarters for workers, according to Jo-Ann Farmer, chief deputy coroner for Jefferson County. But few other details about the man were immediately known.
“Our investigation is ongoing as to why he would have specifically been at this location,” said Alicia Smiley, spokeswoman for Louisville Metro Police.
As police called for witnesses, life on the backside of the track returned to normal, with trucks and horse trailers passing through the gates and hot walkers and exercise riders finishing their morning shifts giving horses their workouts. Hot walkers walk the horses to cool them off after a heavy workout.
Carlos Gomez, a 28-year-old exercise rider, said workers were talking about Perez’s death, but it wasn’t disrupting their work with the horses.
“Nobody knows what happened,” Gomez said.
Laura Belzia, a 38-year-old hot walker, said fights sometimes happen in the cramped quarters of the horse barns, but it doesn’t normally escalate to killings. Belzia, who lives in apartments outside the track, didn’t know Perez. But she said some of her co-workers may be reluctant to talk to police, either out of fear of the person who committed the crime or because they are in the country illegally.
“Nobody is going to tell what happened,” Belzia told The Associated Press. “Sometimes people here ... get scared and quit talking.”
Faustino Aguilar, a 29-year-old exercise rider with six years of experience at the track, said some are nervous about the idea that one of their own killed someone near the barns.
“Everybody wants to catch the guy who did that,” Aguilar said. “They do it once, they may do it more.”
Churchill Downs security called police at 4:50 a.m. EDT, Smiley said. The body was found in a barn used by Louisville trainer Angel Montano Sr.
Montano did not have a horse running Saturday either in the undercard or the Derby, which saw a record attendance of more than 165,000. A telephone call, text and Twitter message left for Montano were not immediately returned.
About 200 people live at Churchill Downs at any given time – either in dormitories on the edge of the property or in small apartments above some of the barns themselves.
Although Montano’s barn is near where this year’s Derby winner is kept, there was little talk of the incident Sunday in the stable area.
Instead, I’ll Have Another’s trainer and owners were participating in the usual post-Derby media interviews and speculating about the next race in the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, in three weeks.
About a week after last year’s Kentucky Derby, jockey Michael Baze’s body was found in a vehicle near the stables at the famed Louisville track. His death was ruled an accidental drug overdose.
Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan in Louisville and Norman Gomlak in Atlanta contributed to this report.