06/09/2008 11:00PM

Moving back to U.S. pays off for Heitzmann


Trainer Eric Heitzmann has come to Louisiana Downs by way of Dubai, and in his first season at the Bossier City, La., track he is sitting second in the standings to Jerry Cart. Heitzmann is 5 for 11 with his starters this meet and had a double Sunday with Exciting Empress ($4.20) and Autobeacat ($19.60).

"We had a good day," he said.

Heitzmann, 39, is a Louisiana native who has spent a good deal of his racing career in Dubai. He returned to North America in late 2006 after spending seven years working as an assistant to French trainer Erwan Charpy in Dubai.

"We had a yard of 90 horses there," Heitzmann said. "He was the champion trainer twice while I was there.

"It was a great time. I loved it, but I was just wanting to come home and get started on my own."

Heitzmann had trained a small stable prior to moving to Dubai, with his first career win coming at Turfway Park in 1994. He is from a racing family, with his three brothers all involved in the sport. Roger, the oldest, is an official with the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Another brother, Mike, is a stallion manager at Vinery in Lexington, Ky., and a third brother, David, is the clerk of scales at Churchill Downs. Their father is longtime trainer Roger Heitzmann Jr., who now owns and operates Rhineland Farm in Versailles, Ky.

"Before I trained on my own, I worked pretty much for my dad all those years," Heitzmann said. "Then I tried to do it on my own, and I just didn't have the clients. I was just piddling around with three, four, five horses, and the opportunity came to go to Dubai and I jumped on it."

Heitzmann met his wife, Carmel, while he was in Dubai. She was working for Emirates Airlines and now is key in his operation, he said, as she runs his shed row at Louisiana Downs. Since they have returned to North America, the couple has worked to build a stable that is just now hitting its stride with the support of prominent clients like Valene Farms and Michele Rodriguez. Heitzmann has 14 horses in training at Louisiana Downs, and one of the best is Exciting Empress.

She rallied to win a second-level allowance for Louisiana-bred fillies and mares on turf for Rodriguez on Sunday and should see stakes action later in the meet, Heitzmann said. He said she is a candidate for the $100,000 Matchmaker on the Louisiana Downs Champions Day card Aug. 2.

Another up and coming runner in the barn is the 3-year-old filly Lyra Lee. She won her maiden at Louisiana Downs on May 31.

"She's got a lot of talent," Heitzmann said. "She displaced a palate in her third start, so we changed some equipment on her and she wired the field breaking her maiden. She looks like she's going to have a little bit of talent."

Lyra Lee is possible for one of two stakes on Louisiana Downs Champions Day.

"I've also got some babies that are coming up," Heitzmann said of other promising horses in his barn. "I've got a 2-year-old colt called Rockachaw by Pure Prize that we got a lot of hope for right now."

Tortuga Flats seeks three in row in allowance

Tortuga Flats will be looking for her third straight win Thursday when she drops into the allowance ranks for the featured ninth race, a competitive turf route for fillies and mares bred in Louisiana.

Tortuga Flats began her streak at Lone Star Park in April, when she won a five-furlong turf allowance. She then captured the $50,000 Seven Stars for Louisiana-breds at a mile at Louisiana Downs on May 17. Kirk LeBlanc has the mount for John Balensiefen and trainer Ralph Irwin.