With the start of the 2021 thoroughbred racing season just three weeks away, Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn can’t imagine things being much better than they are.
After all, we are in the midst of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is a very good chance that the Downs could have been devastated by the coronavirus. Instead, while Woodbine in Toronto, the Ferrari of Canadian horse tracks is shut tight, the little track on the prairie is getting set for a brand-new season with bigger purses and plenty of horses.
Even a problem that Dunn foresaw when the Canadian border was shut to all Caribbean countries this winner has been (hopefully) handled. ASD will go into 2021 in a less-than-perfect situation, but a darn good one nonetheless.
There were three issues facing Dunn this winter: Could he find enough jockeys? Could he find enough owners and trainers to bring horses back to Winnipeg after a year of fiscal austerity in 2020? Would he be able to start on May 17 as scheduled? And would he be able to have at least a few fans in the building?
The jockey issue was most pressing, especially after the feds shut the border to Caribbean countries.
“It’s been a real challenge,” Dunn said. “When the federal government put on its travel ban to the Caribbean, it literally wiped out 80 percent of the colony we had and had been working on and planned since our last live race. We started working on it in November and December and we had to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.
“We created an incentive program to try and attract interest because we knew the jockeys had to come from North America and we didn’t want to cannibalize our fellow Canadian tracks. More so to try and attract some Americans which can legally work here during the pandemic. So, I’m pleased with where we are.”
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