Harrah’s Louisiana Downs Leading Trainer Joey Foster Returns With A Heavy Heart
Louisiana Downs leading Thoroughbred trainer Joey Foster.

© Hodges Photography
Harrah’s Louisiana Downs Leading Trainer Joey Foster Returns With A Heavy Heart

By Martha Claussen

BOSSIER CITY, LA—MAY 9, 2018—The 2018 Thoroughbred racing season at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs got underway on Saturday (May 5). It was a bittersweet beginning of the meet for 2016-2017 leading trainer Joey Foster.

The Vinton, Louisiana resident topped all conditioners with 301 starters and a record of 68 wins, 55 seconds and 48 third-place finishes in 2017. He had won the 2016 meet with 41 wins, after finished third in the standings in 2015 with 39 wins. His stakes winners last year included Big Game Baby, in the $75,000 Elge Rasberry and Illusionofreality, who kept her four-race win streak alive in the $50,000 Louisiana Cup Distaff.

And while he hopes to continue to build on his momentum this season, Foster, along with the entire Louisiana Downs racing community, faced an unspeakable tragedy last month involving one of his exercise riders, Amaniel Ortiz.

Louisiana Downs Chaplain Jimmy Sistrunk.
© Hodges Photography
A tornado hit Haughton, a community just east of Bossier City, around midnight, at the Hill Crest Mobile Home & RV Park on Highway 80. His daughter, Carly Stephanie Ortiz Osorio, 2, was killed when a large tree fell on the family’s camper.

"It was beyond what words can describe," said Foster. "It’s stuff that you see on TV but can never imagine that it can happen to someone you know."

A memorial service took place on April 17 at Hill Crest Memorial Funeral Home in Haughton and Carly was laid to rest. Ortiz and his wife, Delfa, have a 1-year-old daughter named Maddie.

Ortiz has been employed by Foster for the past eight years. Affectionately dubbed "Shorty" by the trainer, he is now back to morning works at the barn.

"He works for me from 6:00 to 8:00 am and then gets home," explained Foster. "Mornings are really tough for Delfa and he needs to be there for her."

Foster credits Chaplain Jimmy Sistrunk and everyone at Louisiana Downs for banding together to assist the Ortiz family.

"That part was amazing," added Foster. "You expected everyone here to show their support, but people all over the country responded with donations and letters."

Sistrunk has been in daily contact with the Ortiz family and admits that in his fifteen years of serving as a Chaplain, he had never dealt with such a heartbreaking catastrophe. However, he was encouraged by the unprecedented outpouring of support, both locally and nationally for the Ortiz family.

"It was so touching for me to see the generosity and compassion from people all over the United States when they heard about Carly," said Sistrunk. "People in the racing community are always quick to lend a helping hand, but this was very special."

Sistrunk adds that donations are still needed for furniture and many other items that were destroyed by the force of the tornado. Anyone wishing to assist the family can mail a check payable to the Winner’s Circle Fund for the Ortiz Family and send it to the Winner’s Circle Church, P.O. Box 157, Princeton, LA, 71067.