When exercise rider Calixtro de Jesus was involved in a horrific spill during training hours one morning at Churchill Downs, his cousin, Guatemalan-born Daniel Orantes, immediately rushed to his aid.
In spite of Orantes’ demanding schedule as a groom for Tom Amoss Racing Stables, he still carved out time to care for Jesus, who was partially paralyzed and had suffered a serious head injury in the accident. Due to his selfless attitude and willingness to provide Jesus with all that he needed during that time, Orantes, 29, was presented with the Race Track Chaplaincy of America’s White Horse Award at the organization’s annual luncheon at Churchill Downs Nov. 4.
“I tried to help my cousin with everything he needed because his family is not here to care for him,” said Orantes of Jesus, whose relatives also reside in Guatemala. “I feel happy when I help my family and my friends.”
Orantes, who has worked at Churchill the last three years, regularly sends money home to his wife and two young children in Guatemala. During the time he was caring for Jesus, Orantes slept only two to three hours a night, and often left work during the day to bathe and feed Jesus and provide his basic needs. In addition, Orantes gave his bed for Jesus to have a more comfortable place to sleep, and carried him up and down the stairs.
“He is an everyday hero,” said social worker Jack Cox, who nominated Orantes and described him as “a respected man with a sense of humor and consistently positive attitude.”
Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, who has been the RTCA’s national spokesman since his retirement in 2005, was the master of ceremonies for the White Horse Luncheon, which also honored the late Dick Broadbent and Bill Howard.
Broadbent, a bloodstock agent who served as a breeding advisor to Queen Elizabeth, was also the founder of Christian Word Ministries.
Howard was an avid racing fan and philanthropist who helped establish a chapel on the backside of Churchill Downs and provided several other extra amenities to backstretch workers.
“His love for horses and the people around him was significant and inspiring,” said Churchill Downs chaplain Ken Boehm of Howard. “His quiet commitment with Christian ministries was exceptional and real, and he seemed to have an unusual affinity for the downtrodden and less fortunate people among us. Though he was extremely generous, he wanted no recognition. He was an unusual man with an unusually tender heart.”
Boehm said before every Kentucky Derby, Howard gave tickets to backstretch workers for prominent seats at the event so they could see the race from the other side.
Also during the luncheon, First Lady Jane Beshear, wife of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, presented the RTCA with an acclamation certificate signed by the governor.
“The men and women that work in this industry sometimes don’t receive the credit or acknowledgement they deserve,” said Beshear. “But it’s their work, effort, passion, commitment, and love of the horse that makes the races on days like the Breeders’ Cup so exciting for the rest of us that sit on the front side.
“Without the backside, there would not be a front side. We are so grateful for the chaplains at our racetracks. They are devoted to faith and worship, but their work goes beyond even that. They serve as counselors, confidants, and friends to men and women in this community.”