“It doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve. It just feels more like the sense of a relief of a long journey, but still with a lot of miles to go,” – Assiniboia Downs’ CEO Dunn to the Winnipeg Free Press


When BEAR ME A MOMENT steps out onto the Assiniboia Downs track at 7:30 p.m. Central (8:30 Eastern) on Monday night, May 25, there will cheers from horse racing fans from Manitoba and across Canada. Those cheers, however, will be coming from people’s homes where we remain sequestered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assiniboia, in Winnipeg, is the first Canadian track to open since horse racing and all other entertainment and sports events were halted in March when the virus swept across the world. Fort Erie racetrack follows on June 2, Woodbine Mohawk Standardbreds June 5 and Woodbine Thoroughbreds June 6. Ajax Downs Quarterhorses are scheduled to begin June 10.

Many eyes will be on Assiniboia Downs tonight, which offers six races including the Go Go LoLo Overnight stakes. Racing will take place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for the season.

“Just to get to this point to launch the horses out of the gate was a very trying experience.,” Assiniboia Downs’ CEO Darren Dunn told the Winnipeg Free Press. “A lot of things had to go right. We’re so thrilled the government believed in our plan and was willing to support it.”

The featured event, race 3 on the six-race card, is at 5 furlongs with a $16,000 purse. Winter-raced Miss Imperial, in from Oaklawn Park for trainer Murray Duncan, is the 9-to-5 morning line favourite and the most likely winner based on her natural quickness for the distance. Ontario-bred shipper Broadway Bonnie, claimed from her finale at Woodbine last fall by Barry Wilde and Lori Going, has been working in sizzling times at Century Mile (5 furlongs in 58 flat one morning).

Assiniboia Downs is delivering free track programs to fans who signed on and wagering can be done on the Woodbine Entertainment-based platform HorsePlayer Interactive (HPI.com).

Through HPI you can pay $1.50 or 350 reward points for a past performance program from Equibase or $3.50 for a Daily Racing Form program (with Beyer Speed Figures).

The jockey colony is a bit different currently as the track’s leading rider RICHARD MAIRS is stuck in the Caribbean along with many other riders who live there in the off-season. Until travel restrictions are lifted, riders cannot travel to Canada.

From Ivan Bigg’s Insider newsletter is a preview of the riders on hand:

“With about a dozen Caribbean jockeys awaiting permission to come to Canada in these coronavirus times–including last year’s leading rider, Richard Mairs–two stakes-winning powerhouses top the current ASD jockey colony–ASD’S Antonio Whitehall and Alberta’s Rigo Sarmiento.”

Sarmiento, with 465 starts last year, had 11 stakes victories and his horses earned $1.3 million. His win rate was 20 per cent. Whitehall, with about half as many starts (249) won eight stakes and his horses earned $459K. His win rate was 19 per cent.

Remember? Whitehall won the Winnipeg Futurity and Graduation with Cash Or Card, the CTHS Sale Stakes with Esther’s Quest, the Debutante with Arizona Sun, the Harry Jeffrey with Senor Friday, the Phil Kives with Langara and the Winnipeg Sun and Canada Day with Tadaa.

Kayla Pizarro is the only other stakes winner at a recognized track in the current jockey colony. She won the Free Press with Louden’s Gray. She had 173 starts and won 16 per cent of the time.

Other jockeys include:

Stanley Chadee Jr. — also rode at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon and Century Downs in Alberta — 2019 record: 163-17-16-29 (10 per cent wins)
Sheldon Chickeness — rode at Fonner, Lethbridge, Fargo and Chippewa Downs — 2019 record 31-7-7-3 (23 per cent wins)
Nicole Hein — rode at Marquis — 2019 record 47-7-12-7 (15 per cent wins)
Neville Stephenson — rode primarily at Marquis — 2019 record 218-44-34-28 (20 per cent wins)
Rafael Zenteno, Jr.– rode in Alberta — 2019 record 128-13-14-23 (10 per cent wins)
Edgar Zenteno — rode in Alberta — 2019 record 30-1-0-2
Nirone Austin — started riding at ASD last year — record 25-0-4-2
Shawn Samuel — rode primarily at Marquis – 2019 record 90-15-13-8 (17 per cent win rate)”

The Winnipeg Free Press has more racing coverage  here.  (To read the story you need to set up a free account with an email and password).