Get ready to have your socks knocked off by a brand new, totally original handicapping angle that no one has ever talked about or written about, as far as I can tell. How’s that for a teaser to kick off the second season of the Bettor’s Edge that will appear each Monday on CanadianThoroughbred.com?
I discovered the technique while analyzing how our betting group at Assiniboia Downs could have won the Kentucky Derby pick-6 that paid $1 million for a 20-cent ticket. But you’ll have to wait until next Monday for the Big Reveal on what that method is. That’s because today, Victoria Day, has more immediate action. Assiniboia Downs (ASD) launches its 50-day live race season tonight at 7:30 p.m. CT and Fort Erie fires up its 54-day meet tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET.
So let’s see what I can throw your way to help you nail some winners at those track’s openers. Take note, first, that ASD is becoming the first Canadian track to offer a bet that’s part of the wagering menu at major U.S. tracks: the $1 Super Hi-5. It will be available in races 5 and 7. Predict the top five finishers in the correct order and you share in the pool. When no one wins, the pool carries over to the next Super Hi-5 race. There must be at least seven horses in the field. (Hastings is now offering a similar wager on its last race but it has a 20-cent minimum.)
Nostalgia is expected to be the order of the night at ASD — especially among old-timers. That’s because the Winnipeg track has bid farewell to a bet that has been available since 1934 when Manitoba’s “father of racing,” R.J. Speers, introduced it at Polo Park, the predecessor track to ASD: the quinella (thanks to intrepid track historian Bob Gates for digging up that bit of trivia). In the early days of ASD, which opened its doors in 1958, the reason horse players hung around to the end of the race card was to play this exotic wager. Fans rushed to get to the track in time to play the double in the first two races and lingered to put $2 on the quinella in the last race. That bet fell out of favour long ago, of course, because a $1 exactor box emerged to serve the same purpose. But there was a deeper reason for dropping the quinella. Said ASD CEO Darren Dunn: “The decision was based on the small quinella pool size that could potentially leave it open to manipulation as occurred with Gulfstream Park in late 2022.”
What he was referring to is Gulfstream dropping the quinella bet last November after a player bet $18,000 on longshots in a tiny quinella pool so the player could collect big money on his offshore accounts when the quinella combining two favourites had a much bigger payoff than it should have. Read about it here. The bet is still available today in the U.S. at Belmont and Prairie Meadows. Also, Del Mar and Turf Paradise offered the bet at their most recent meets.
What else should you look for in tonight’s ASD card?
In previous opening days, smart money gravitated toward horses shipping into ASD with a conditioning edge, having raced recently at other tracks. But race secretary Dustin Davis said this year could be different because Manitoba-based horses are fitter than usual because of better-than-usual weather. “Horses have had four or five workouts instead of just two or three,” Davis noted. And the trainers at the top of his “ready to go” list? Bruce Anderson, Tom Gardipy Jr., Wendy Anderson, Chris Maxwell, Marvin Buffalo, Steve Gaskin, Carl Anderson, Ryan Dejarlais and Shelley Brown.
In last year’s opener, two jockeys won two races each on the seven-race card: Chavion Chow and leading jockey Jorge Carreno. Chow has four mounts tonight, Carreno has six. Five of the seven races last year were won by horses that had raced at other tracks earlier in the year, one was won by an over-wintered ASD horse and one was won by a first-time starter. Four races were won gate to wire. So look for horses with the highest pace numbers in the Equibase program. All seven races were five-furlong dashes which is the same this year except for one seven-furlong race. The biggest price, $22.10, came in race 1 which was won by a first-time starter trained by Devon Gittens.
Of particular interest in the past couple years has been the size of the $1 pick-4 pool. They’ve been gigantic since ASD moved to Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday night racing during the pandemic (it had been Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights before that). Pool size has rivalled Woodbine’s 20-cent pick-4s. The pool hit $109,000 on opening day last year and management is likely crossing fingers hoping the trend continues. Pick-4 pools at Hastings, Century Mile and Fort Erie have rarely exceeded $15,000. Total betting on last year’s seven-race opener at ASD was $1.15 million.
And what should you look for when Fort Erie racing fires up at 4:30 ET tomorrow?
At Fort Erie a year ago, the hottest opening day jockey/trainer combo was Helen Vanek and Nick Mileni, Jr. with two wins. They’re back together in race 6 tomorrow. The hottest jockeys, besides Vanek, were Kirk Johnson and Chris Husbands with two wins each on the 10-race card. So three jockeys accounted for six wins on opening day. Note that Johnson came back on Day 2 of the Fort meet to win two more races on an eight-race card.
Speed ruled just as it did at ASD. Four of the races were won gate-to-wire and you needed to be close to the pace to capture the others. Seven races were five furlongs, one was six furlongs and the other two were seven furlongs. Six races were won by horses that had raced at other tracks earlier that year. The biggest price was $21.70 in a five-furlong stakes race which was won by a horse who had raced at Tampa. Total betting on the 10-race card was $1.5 million.
Today’s other Canadian track
Just a reminder, too, that today is Day 6 at Hastings Racecourse. The Vancouver track is staging a special seven-race holiday card that begins at 2 p.m. PT. Their races end 30 minutes before ASD fires up its season. Good luck everywhere.
And one final reminder: Be sure to wear socks while you’re reading next week’s Bettor’s Edge so I can do what I promise in the first line of today’s column.