01/04/2010 12:00AM

Veteran trainer Cotton Tinsley found dead

Trainer Cotton Tinsley in 1987, the year he campaigned Purdue King in California.

Veteran trainer Cotton Tinsley was found dead early Monday morning, more than three days after he had gone missing from near his home in Arcadia, Calif., near Santa Anita. He was 81.

According to a statement Monday from the Arcadia Police Department, the 2007 Toyota Matrix belonging to Tinsley was found, parked and unoccupied, near a ravine in the mountains above San Bernardino, about two miles north of the Snow Valley ski resort. That is a drive of more than one hour from where Tinsley lived.

A search and rescue operation involving Arcadia Police and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department found Tinsley's body 300 feet down the ravine, according to the press release.

"It looks like an unfortunate accident," Lt. Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the Arcadia Police Department, said Monday afternoon via telephone. "The coroner for San Bernardino will determine the cause of death. Most likely he was near the edge, and with the snow and cold, he slipped and fell. There's no signs of any misdeed."

Debbie Leyva, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Coroner's Department, said an autopsy would be performed in the next few days to determine cause of death.

Tinsley had last been seen New Year's Eve at a party near his home, which he left at approximately 8:30 p.m. His wife, Pat, who was working that night, returned home shortly after midnight and found no signs of Tinsley, a close friend of the family said Monday. Both the police and the close friend say Tinsley had no signs of dementia.

Jodi Miller, the public information officer with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, said it was her understanding that investigators had been told by Tinsley's family that Tinsley "loved the outdoors" and that it was "not uncommon for him to drive to the mountains."

Tinsley, born Julius Edgar (he went by J.E. "Cotton" Tinsley in the program), had his biggest win in the 1963 Santa Anita Handicap with Crozier. He was employed by Crozier's owner, Fred Hooper, for 26 years, both on the racetrack and on the farm, and worked with such outstanding horses as Admiral's Voyage, Beat Inflation, Olympia, Susan's Girl, and Tri Jet as either a trainer or exercise rider.

He worked with or mentored trainers Ross Fenstermaker, Mike Griffin, and John Russell, all of whom were employed at some point as the head trainer for Hooper. He also worked for owners Dan Lasater and the Glen Hill Farm of Leonard Lavin.

Tinsley was retired. His best runner in more recent years was Purdue King, the California champion 2-year-old male of 1987.

Funeral services are pending.