07/18/2017 12:34PM

Armando Cortes, longtime groom for Rusty Arnold barn, dies suddenly

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Armando Cortes with the stakes-winning filly Morticia in April at Keeneland. Cortes, 39, accompanied Morticia from Keeneland to Laurel on Friday, and died that evening.

There was little joy at the stable of Rusty Arnold following Morticia's course-record performance in the Stormy Blues Stakes at Laurel Park on Saturday following the death the evening before of longtime employee Armando Cortes.

Cortes, 39, worked as a groom for Arnold 14 years. He accompanied Morticia from Keeneland to Laurel on Friday but became sick that evening and died.

"The details are a little sketchy," Arnold said. "He was at the barn to feed her that afternoon and went out to dinner with friends. He became ill, was taken to the hospital, and died."

Arnold said an autopsy had been performed but the results had not yet been released.

"He was as good of an employee as I've ever had," Arnold said. "He was very quiet, some people thought he was shy, but he was crazy about his horses."

Cortes not only groomed Morticia, who is 4 for 6 with three stakes wins, but also groomed her dam, Halloween Party, a three-time winner of $110,000. Both horses belong to owner-breeder G. Watts Humphrey Jr.

Arnold employs three of Cortes's brothers. Claudio is Arnold's assistant trainer, Jose is an exercise rider, and Luis is a groom.

Claudio's son Diego also works at the stable.

"This is a mystery to all of us," Diego said. "My uncle didn't drink or do drugs. All he did was work. He loved Morticia. He told me he treated her like he would treat a daughter."

Armando Cortes, and his wife, Leti, have two children, a 1-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter.

Claudio Cortes and Diego were at Delaware Park on Friday preparing Weep No More for the Delaware Handicap. Claudio was notified by the authorities about his brother's death at 11 p.m. He drove to Laurel, according to Arnold, to identify his brother and then returned to Delaware. After the Del Cap, he headed back to Maryland.

"I was going to scratch Morticia after I got the news," Arnold said, "but I got a call from Horacio De Paz's barn, and they said they had her, and that they would run her for us if we wanted. They are also bringing the filly up to Saratoga for us."

Morticia won the Stormy Blues by 1 3/4 lengths and set a 5 1/2-furlong course record of 1:01.29.

Armando Cortes will be buried in Mexico. A GoFundMe page has been set up seeking donations to help his family with expenses.

"This is very sad," Arnold said. "He worked very hard and just got his green card about six months ago."