LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen June  20, 2024


In what seems more like three decades than three months, live racing will resume in Louisiana this month! Opening night of the 2020 Delta Downs Quarter Horse is June 10 and several members of the Louisiana racing community offered their thoughts on getting through the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trainer Vann Haywood began the year at Harrah's Louisiana Downs, finishing second in the standings. He was gearing up to ship his horses to Delta Downs at the conclusion of the meet on March 18. When Louisiana Downs canceled the final two days of their season and Delta Downs restricted horses from entering, Haywood and many other horsemen were in a bind.

"I had moved some of my horses to my farm (in Vinton) and others stayed at Louisiana Downs," he explained. "Louisiana Downs was very good to us, keeping training hours four days a week. I am very fortunate to have patient owners, and I thank them for their loyalty."

Haywood also credited veteran rider Gilbert Ortiz for his support over the last few months.

"Going back and forth from Shreveport was tough, so thankfully Gilbert came out to the farm six days a week to help me out," added Haywood. "I think the world of him!"

Haywood, who will have 40 stalls at Delta Downs, is very relieved that the upcoming meet will get underway shortly.

"We've got a few older horses and some nice babies paid into the Lassie and Laddie Futurities," he said.

LQHBA Champion trainer Kenneth Roberts, Sr. has been honored as the leading conditioner at Delta Downs nine times. He topped his fellow horsemen again last year, winning 42 races and is eager to enter horses for the upcoming live racing season.

One of his longtime owners, Steve Holland of TM Ranch, purchased Son of Rogue, the sale topper at the 2019 LQHBA Yearling Sale. The colt by Jet Black Patriot out of the Mr Jess Perry mare Miss Jess Rogue, sold for a record of $605,000. Naturally, both Holland and Roberts, as well as everyone in the Quarter Horse racing industry, were eager to see him run his first race.

"His nickname is "605" and when Steve calls me, he'll ask now 605 is doing," explained Roberts. "I tell him the horse is fine but has never been to the racetrack!"

Fortunately, we will get our opportunity to see him in action as he is paid into the $1 million Lee Berwick Futurity (RG1), which will be run on August 22. Roberts indicated that he might run him in a maiden race prior to the trials, if possible.

Members of the very talented jockey colony are also ready to get back to action. Several riders were able to compete at Remington Park or Ruidoso Downs, but many remained at home in Louisiana or Texas, working horses as needed.

Gilbert Ortiz was offered mounts out of state but decided against traveling and sitting out due to the mandated 14-day quarantine. He has been content to gallop horses for Haywood and other conditioners on their farms.

"I love to stay busy," said the veteran rider. "Working horses during training hours at the track can get rushed. On the farm, I can work up to 16 horses a day and everyone takes their time."

Born in Texas, Ortiz, 57, has been a mainstay on the Louisiana circuit for over three decades with graded stakes wins aboard champions including Vals Fortune, Heza Louisiana Dash and Coors Select. He won the 2016 Lee Berwick Futurity (RG1) with Watergirl B and celebrated his 3,000th career race at Evangeline Downs. Ortiz is looking forward to returning to the races.

"I have some decent babies and quality horsemen I ride for," he said. "But it might be just 2 to 3 a night for me in the beginning of the Delta meet. This Coronavirus is a serious deal."

Luciano Duenez is a young rider who also was forced to make some choices over the last few months.

"I was a little worried, not knowing when we would be able to return to the track," he said.

The 24-year-old jockey decided to remain at home in San Antonio but was able to help out his father on the farm and work some horses for him.

"Even though I was galloping a few on the farm, I gained a little weight," admitted Duenez.

When restrictions were lifted at Delta Downs, he was happy to return to Louisiana.

"My first day back, I worked 15 horses," he said. "Whew, I was sore the next day!"

Duenez began riding in 2015 and has a long way to go to catch up with veterans like Ortiz, John Hamilton, Donald Watson and 2019 leading rider Everardo Rodriguez, but he has gained the attention of a growing list of horsemen. His top win so far was a win aboard Hh Gailforce in the 2019 Mardi Gras Futurity (RG2) at Louisiana Downs.

The voting for the 2020 LQHBA Board of Directors took place in April and Riley Blanchet is one of four new representatives elected. He lives in Rosedale, Louisiana and serves as the Mayor of the town in Iberville Parish.

Blanchet owns a trucking company in addition to breeding and racing horses, some on his own and others in partnership with his brother, Chris, who operates Blanchet Farms.

"Both in racing and the trucking industry, my motto is to take care of business and have a lot of luck," he said.

His business acumen will serve the board well as he states he is "tight with money" which will be necessary throughout the recovery period from COVID-19. He supports the decision to run the annual LQHBA Yearling Sale as a two-day event this August.

"You have to roll with the punches in tough times," stated Blanchet. "We have a great program in Louisiana and the Cajun people have always been resilient. We're going to be okay."

The 2020 Delta Downs meet will get underway on Wednesday, June 10 and run Wednesday through Saturday evenings through Saturday, August 22. The first two nights will feature trials for the Old South Derby and Futurity. Accredited Louisiana-breds will compete in trials for the Lassie and Laddie Futurities on Friday, June 12 and Saturday, June 13.

We salute each of the breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys and hard-working men and women on the backside and wish them all a very successful run at Delta Downs. May the remainder of 2020 be filled with good health and success on and off the racetrack!

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen for www.lqhba.com. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.