The mud and snow weren’t stopping any of the jockeys this week at ASD, and that means a lot considering there are 18 of the 110-pound strongmen in the backstretch right now.

Jockeys already here in alphabetical order are Ronald Ali, Prayven Badrie, Sven Balroop, Shavon Belle, Arthur Budhu, Damario Bynoe, Stanley Chadee, Jr., Chavion Chow, Renaldo Cumberbatch, Dario Dalrymple, Dane Dawkins, Dwight Lewis, Javaniel Patterson, Neville Stephenson, Tim Tarasenco, reigning leading rider Antonio Whitehall and apprentices Sachin Parris and Rashad Knight.

Knight is a new arrival from Barbados who learned how to ride horses starting with a donkey, but it didn’t take him long to transition to thoroughbreds. Knight’s journey began under the tutelage of top Barbados trainer John Chandler. “He taught me the majority of what I know, helped me get my exercise license, and then my race day license.”

Knight has won 26 races in Barbados and is hoping his success at home will transfer to Canada. The apprentice admits the colder Canadian climate has been an adjustment, but he likes the challenge. “It was cold this morning,” said Knight on Thursday morning. “But I like it here.”

While Barbados may be better known for its tropical beaches than its racing scene, Knight proved his talents by finishing third in both the 2022 Barbados Derby and the Midsummer Creole Classic, the second leg of the Barbados Triple Crown. Still, opportunities were limited on his native racing circuit.

“That’s the big difference between here and there,” said Knight, who was excited about riding for the first time in Canada when Assiniboia Downs opens on Monday, May 20. “There are so many more opportunities here. I hope to do well.”

Knight has been getting on horses for top trainers including Devon Gittens, Shelley Brown, and Jared Brown among others, thanks to a kickstart from elite agent Shane Ball and three-time leading rider Antonio Whitehall, who suggested Knight come to Assiniboia Downs.


The main track is open, over 270 horses are on the grounds and the HBPA Groom School has a waiting list!

It wasn’t long ago that the Groom School could barely get enough students, but something has changed and young people are applying in droves to work with horses. There are currently 25 students in training to be grooms and another 24 on the waiting list.

“We have far exceeded our expectations,” said HBPA Office Manager Shannon Dawley, who thinks positive word-of-mouth is the reason for the sudden influx of students. “Everyone who has gone through the program has given us very positive feedback, and we continue to make small changes to make the program better, but the interest is insane.”
At a time when backstretches across North America are starving for good grooms, Assiniboia Downs finds itself in a garden spot, which is great news for trainers, especially those who ship in from south of the border.

Grooms can make an average of between $650 to $700 per week at the track once they graduate from the school. For some who love horses, it’s the perfect summer job. For others, it can turn into a year-round passion.

Groom school student Natalie Gregory moved to Winnipeg from Toronto two years ago and now finds herself in the barn of trainer Tiffany Husbands loving what she’s doing. Her dad was a groom at Woodbine when he was young.

“I’ve always been around horses,” said Gregory. “Growing up my bedtime stories were always about the good old days at the racetrack. And I grew up riding English, so when I saw online that they were looking to hire grooms, I applied, and here I am.”

And she has a law degree. “I’m not doing anything with that right now,” said Gregory. “It wasn’t what I want to pursue, so now I’m just kind of figuring things out and I really like what I’m doing.”
Gregory said the transition from English riding horses to thoroughbreds at the track is a little different, as you look after more horses at the racetrack and the tacking is done in the stall rather than in the shedrow, but other than that the learning curve has been smooth.

“My horse friends think it’s super cool,” said Gregory. “And my city friends think it’s cool, but from a distance. A lot of them ask about the horses being so big and unpredictable, and things like that. But you just have to be paying attention to their body language, and it’s just about keeping them safe and you safe and staying calm and being confident.”


ASD Track Photographer Jason Halstead won the 2023 Sovereign Award for Outstanding Photograph in Canadian horse racing at 49th annual Sovereign Awards celebration in Toronto on Thursday night. Congratulations Jason! Well done!

The photo featured trainer Mike Nault’s groom Olive Johnston giving Commandoslastdance a kiss after her victory in the 61st running of the Buffalo Stakes for owners A2 Thoroughbreds and True North Thoroughbreds and breeders Keaton and Aiden Ziprick on Sept. 18, 2023. Chavion Chow up.

A freelance photographer and editor for the Winnipeg Free Press, Jason started taking the win pictures at Assiniboia Downs in 2016 under the tutelage of Gerry Hart and took over the position full time in 2018. Six years later, he’s a big winner! And this photo was so deserving.