Horse racing returned to Canada May 25 at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg after the COVID-19 virus spread locked down businesses, entertainment and sports in March. No spectators were allowed, but  fans greeted the horses’ return with plenty of enthusiasm.

Six races reeled in $1,067,221 in wagering, up 343% from opening day in 2019 when seven races were run on May 12. Of course, a year ago Assiniboia was going head-to-head with more tracks at that time including Canada’s biggest track, Woodbine.

Last year, on Assiniboia’s biggest day of racing headlined by the Manitoba Derby, wagering was just short of $600,000.

The wagering boom on opening night comes despite some of the highest takeout rates on wagers in the country, see a chart comparison here.  A win wager at Assiniboia has a 19% takeout rate compared to 14.75% at Woodbine.

But fans would not kept away from placing some bets on the evening of racing which included the $17,400 Go Go Lolo Overnight dash at five furlongs for fillies and mares. Favourite players were happy as winter-raced MISS IMPERIAL scampered away from Ontario-bred shipper Broadway Bonnie and lasted to win by three-quarters of length in 58.20 for owner/trainer Murray Duncan and the estate of Garyelle Stewart. Stanley Chadee Jr. was the winning rider on the MacLean’s Music Kentucky bred filly.

Owner and trainer Ruan Desjarlais won two races with Rafael Zenteno Jr. riding. The team won the last two races with Man of Blues at 8 to 1 and Peeper at 12 to 1.

Protocols in place for racing during the pandemic include social distancing and it appeared that most on-track people were wearing masks other than the jockeys.

Racing will continue Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Assiniboia with a post time of 7:30 Central.

Bear Me a Moment won the first race of Thoroughbred racing in Canada in 2020 for owner Barry Arnason and trainer Mike Nault. Assiniboia Downs’ CEO Darren Dunn (far right) presents the winning blanket for the Don Gray Memorial- Assiniboia Downs photo