From River Downs
Jockey James "Chris" Herrell, 31, a regular at River Downs in Ohio and Turfway Park in Kentucky, died suddenly at his apartment in Louisville Nov. 12.
Herrell was having lunch with his fiancée, apprentice rider Christin Landrum, when he collapsed and never regained consciousness. The coroner has yet to determine the cause of death.
Herrell moved to the Cincinnati, Ohio, area when he was 12 and lived with his aunt, Carol Hays, and her husband, Danton, a Thoroughbred trainer. He spent his teen years with them in Union, Ky., and attended Boone County High School. Though he was 5-feet-8, Herrell chose a career as a jockey at the age of 16.
In his first year of riding, he won the leading apprentice award at River Downs and this year finished ninth in the jockey standings in an injury-shortened summer season. Herrell broke his collarbone in a gate mishap at the track in August and had just returned to riding at Hoosier Park in Indiana. Over the past two years, he attended the Sullivan Culinary Institute in Louisville and had hopes of becoming a chef when he finished riding. He was nicknamed "The Galloping Gourmet."
"Everyone loved Chris," River Downs publicist John Engelhardt said. "He had the brightest blue eyes and a wide, toothy grin that he flashed most of the time. He worked hard in the mornings and was a great communicator after he got off of a horse. You could always count on him, whether it was working with the students from Cincinnati Riding for the Handicapped or raising money for the Don MacBeth Fund."
Carol Hays spoke to Herrell by phone just 30 minutes before he collapsed. "He sounded great, was happy to be back riding, and was making plans to come up and see us," she said. "There was nothing out of the ordinary--his last words to me were 'I love you'."
Herrell's lanky build lent to a constant battle with his weight. "At this time there is no direct cause and effect," Hays said. "The coroner said it was nothing obvious such as an aneurysm or heart attack. We are just not sure."
Services for Herrell will take place in Louisville Nov. 15-16. Details of the services are pending.