Veteran Quarter Horse rider Gilbert Ortiz was feted March 29 at Louisiana Downs by racing officials, fellow jockeys and a bevy of trainers, owners and well-wishers. Today marked his final day riding at the Bossier City racetrack as the accomplished and respected rider will retire at the end of 2023.
Jen Sokol, Louisiana Downs Racing Operations Manager, presented Ortiz with a commemorative plaque in honor of his noteworthy achievements in the Quarter Horse industry.
“Gilbert has made an unsurpassed impact on Louisiana racing,” stated Sokol. “It’s so much more than his 3,020 career wins; Gilbert has always given 100% to his horses, connections, fellow riders and fans. We wanted to honor him and make sure he knows how much we will miss him!”
Born in Pleasanton, Texas, Ortiz, began his career in 1978 in Texas. The early years were challenging, and he did not win a stakes race until 1991. However that decade was very successful for Ortiz with opportunities to ride some of the top-ranked Quarter Horses in the country. His top Texas-breds included Grade 1 winners including War Colors, Show Me Your Toole, Diamond Tres Seis and AQHA Racing Champion Aged Mare, Kool Kue Baby. The diminutive filly was acquired in a trade by Ramiro Lopez for two calves, two pigs and a cow dog! Despite her stature, she won 25 stakes victories and her name always brings a smile to Ortiz.
In 1986, Ortiz began riding full-time in Louisiana with tremendous success aboard Louisiana-bred champions including Heza Louisiana Dash, Watergirl B, Zupers Quick Dash, Coors Select, Magic Shiney and and of course, millionaire, Vals Fortune, who won 18 of 20 races in his brilliant career.
On November 27, 2015, Ortiz won his 3,000th career race aboard Baby Separatista in a trial for the Evangeline Downs Futurity. Only six other Quarter Horse jockeys have surpassed the milestone of 3,000 wins: G.R. Carter, Alvin Brossette, Danny Cardoza, Eddie Garcia and John Creager.
Like so many of his fellow riders, Ortiz has dealt with significant injuries throughout his career. In 1998, Ortiz broke his leg in a starting gate accident in Houston and underwent surgery where a rod and four screws were inserted. His surgeon told him he would not ride again, that there was no way the bone would regenerate. Ortiz sought other recommendations and began using a stimulator for twenty minutes a day to increase blood flow to the leg. Furthermore, he read that certain foods were high in calcium, which is essential for bone growth. So, he loaded up on broccoli and blueberries. Nine months later, his surgeon was incredulous that he had solid bone in his badly shattered leg!Another frightening spill occurred in 1999 when his mount rolled on him, leaving him with a fractured skull, two crushed vertebrae and broken bones in his face. Just six months later, Ortiz was back in the saddle.
Ortiz has numerous leading jockey titles in Texas and Louisiana and continues to be a role model and mentor to the up and coming Quarter Horse riders, including Raul Ramirez, Jr.
"Gilbert is a true professional and hard-working guy," said Ramirez. "I remember when I first was starting out and was too green to switch sticks, I interfered with Gilbert's horse. Instead of yelling at me, he watched the replay and calmly gave me some really good advice. I try to do the same with the young guys because of the way Gilbert treated me when I was just getting started."
Ortiz was honored in 2012 with the Sam Thompson Memorial Jockey Award, which is presented on All American weekend at Ruidoso Downs. The prestigious award is voted by jockeys for rider whose personal character on and off the track reflects positively on Quarter Horse racing.
He is the proud father of three children. Jessica, the oldest, is a registered nurse in Dallas; Kourtney is a pastry chef and son, Andrew is in the Air Force, based in Alaska. Each are married and grandchildren, Vincent and Sophia have given Ortiz tremendous joy!
A lifelong road warrior, Ortiz will travel to Kentucky to ride in the six-day Quarter Horse meet at Sandy Ridge-Red Mile. From there, he will head to Delta Downs and finish the year at Evangeline Downs. Accompanying him will be his longtime partner and agent Cynthia “Red” Delahoussaye, and their spirited canine, Ripp.
Ortiz will turn 60 on May 1. There’s no question that breeders, owners, trainers, fellow jockeys and a legion of racing fans will miss his talent when he hangs up his tack. However, he is 100% comfortable with his decision and will not disappear into the sunset.
“It’s time,” Ortiz acknowledged. “We will stay in Louisiana, and I will probably continue to work some babies next year. “For now, I will just enjoy the rest of the year, doing what I love!”
About Louisiana Downs
Located near Shreveport in Bossier City, Louisiana, Louisiana Downs opened in 1974 and is owned by Rubico Acquisition Corporation. With annual Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing seasons, the track is committed to presenting the highest quality racing programs paired with its 150,000 square foot entertainment complex offering casino gambling, dining and plasma screen televisions for sports and simulcast racing.