Henry S. Witt Jr. has been the leading owner at Assiniboia Downs for the past five years in a row, culminating with his first win in the prestigious Manitoba Derby in 2023 with longshot Mano Dura.

It’s been a long journey from growing up on a farm in Texas to roaring car racing championships and on to the Assiniboia Downs winner’s circle, and Witt has loved every minute of it.

Born and raised on a farm in Axtell, Texas, Witt’s early life was defined by hard work, from milking cows before dawn to hauling hay in the summers. This work ethic translated seamlessly into sports, where he excelled in football, basketball, and rodeo, and earned all-state honours at Hill College in Texas.

Witt always had a love for horses, but his enthusiasm for the four-legged runners would have to wait as he pursued his original passion of car racing while also building his business, Affiliated Auto Glass in Waco, Texas, which he started in 1983.

Transitioning from rodeo to race car driving, Witt quickly rose to prominence in the IMCA Modified racing scene, amassing an impressive record of wins and championships over a decade of dominance.

“I was racing cars when I first started the business,” said Witt in a Winnipeg Free Press article after winning the Manitoba Derby. “I’d drive out to the track at night 4 1/2 or five hours away. I’d come back, drive over to the glass shop, park the truck, put a little pallet down on the floor in the office, sleep until about 6:30 and get up, get ready to open up.”

“It’s pretty lucrative now,” said Witt. “I have depots in Waco, Temple, Copperas Cove and Gatesville, 14 trucks and 24 or 25 guys. We do 400 windshields a week. But it wasn’t always like that.”

Witt won multiple IMCA Modified championships from 1988 to 1997 and in 1998 he started driving for the 701 Racing Team and won more feature races in the shortest period of time than anyone in the history of IMCA racing. He won 258 features, eight consecutive regional championships, six consecutive state championships and one national championship. He retired from racing in 2007 after winning his final race.

“I quit racing cars on July 21, on my birthday,” said Witt. “I was in a race and I got a lap down. I came back and I got back on the lead, and they tried to put me in first place, but I just said no. I knew I was a lap down.”

After retiring from car racing in 2007, Witt ventured into the world of thoroughbred horse racing, a decision that would mark the beginning of another illustrious chapter in his life. He met trainer Jerry Gourneau in Nebraska, and the partnership they formed would lead to unprecedented success at Assiniboia Downs, where they have dominated for five consecutive seasons.

From 2019-2023, Witt teamed up with 5-time leading trainer Gourneau to compile a record of 180-175-177 from 1,014 starts for purse earnings of $1,769,306. And that doesn’t include the years from 2015-2018. Witt finished among the top three owners at Assiniboia Downs in 2015, 2017 and 2018, and also led the standings in 2016. Simply put…

He knows how to win.