Not long after tragedy struck, Shawn Kennedy's cellphone began buzzing with text messages and phone calls bearing news that a rider and horse had been killed at Woodbine Racetrack.
Mr. Kennedy, a long-time rider who is Woodbine's chaplain, headed to the track, his car radio tuned to the news for updates. When he arrived at the sand ring, a backstretch area for exercising horses, he found police cars and distraught witnesses.
"It's very sobering because when accidents happen it just reminds you of how dangerous it can be," he said.
In what ought to have been a typical early-morning session, exercise rider Mourad Boudraa was atop Tawney's Wish, a three-year-old thoroughbred, when the filly went into what police called "an unexpected wild gallop" after suffering a suspected heart attack shortly after 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
"The [rider] was crushed into the track railing and then by the weight of the horse as it collapsed," said Constable Jenniferjit Sidhu. "Basically, the [rider] was at the wrong place, wrong time."
Other riders and trainers witnessed the incident, and one trainer called 911 while another administered CPR. Medics stationed elsewhere on the racetrack grounds also responded.
However, Mr. Boudraa, 40, a married horse lover originally from Morocco, suffered "severe traumatic injuries from a fall, including to the head" and was pronounced dead at the scene, said Toronto EMS spokeswoman Kim McKinnon.
Mr. Boudraa had been licensed for three to four years as a freelance exercise rider at Woodbine, and had previously worked with the horse, said Jamie Martin, executive vice-president of racing for the Woodbine Entertainment Group.
"We'll all work together to support not only this family but the entire backstretch community that has gone through this," he said. "Part of our review of this incident will be our response time to the sand ring."
Mr. Boudraa was exercising Tawney's Wish for trainer Don Pleterski, who was in the barn with his wife, Kathy, when the incident happened, Mr. Kennedy said. The filly was being trained for her second race this weekend.
"They feel horrible," said Mr. Kennedy, who spent part of the day trying to comfort Mr. and Ms. Pleterski.
"When a horse has a heart attack, it's like being in a car and no steering wheel," said Mr. Kennedy. "You have no control and the horse either goes left, right or down and that's it. And it's very violent motions; it's very, very tough. So you go along for the ride and just hope you have a soft landing."
Mr. Kennedy also spoke with Mr. Boudraa's wife, who showed up at the track with a friend after police notified her of her husband's death.
"She's torn up, you know. She was crying," he said. "Really, really tough."
Mr. Boudraa was a skilled exercise rider who had previously raced internationally, said trainer Carolyn Costigan, who worked with him about two years ago.
"He was very kind to the horses and he was very good at his job and so he was a delight to have in the barn," she said.
"Mourad would be the perfect example of somebody who just loved riding, loved working with the horses. He'd always be petting his horse. The horses know when you have an admiration for them – they can feel that – and he was able to impart that to the horses. The horses knew that he enjoyed being with them."
Tricia Greer, one of Tawney's Wish's owners, said the animal had no health issues. Her corpse has been sent to the University of Guelph for a necropsy. "She was always very lovely to deal with," she said.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour is investigating.