With the absence of information from anywhere else, Bigg followers contacted yours truly to see why, suddenly, all of ASD leading trainer Jerry Gourneau’s horses were being scratched during three live race nights last week, Monday to Wednesday — a total of 20 horses. It certainly constituted big news since Gourneau has been the leading trainer at Assiniboia Downs three years in a row, has 52 horses in his barn (with more arriving) and trains for top ASD horse owner Henry S. Witt, Jr., a former race car driver in Texas.
Thankfully, fans were eventually able to heave a big sigh of relief. As it turned out, Gourneau’s three-year-old gelding, Witt Sweet Sixteen, had accidentally been given dexamethasone-tainted feed which was meant for the horse in the adjacent stall who had come through surgery to remove an injured eye. Dexamethasone is a steroid — a low-level, class 4 prohibited drug in a horse during a race.
As speculation raged all over the map Monday and into Tuesday when neither race secretary Dustin Davis nor ASD CEO Darren Dunn were able to tell Bettor’s Edge what was going on, stewards summoned Gourneau into their office Tuesday afternoon to hit him with a Tuesday-Wednesday suspension and a $1,000 fine for the dexamethasone positive. Thirteen entered horses were unable to race.
So why were all his horses scratched on Monday, too — seven of them — including a horse Witt had claimed for $50,000 at Lone Star Park to compete in the $50,000 Derby Trial Stakes that day? “They told me it was because of the ongoing investigation,” Gourneau told Bettor’s Edge. He also said he thought a first offence called for just a fine and not the suspension. “It was human error; it happens,” he said of the feeding mistake. “I’ll take it on the chin and move on.”
But race fans might not feel as forgiving toward the Liquor Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba for not being upfront about the slew of scratches as soon as they began. (The MLGC ultimately posted the stewards’ ruling on the Gourneau penalty on their Thoroughbred Rulings Manitoba website here.)
But the disqualification of Witt Sweet Sixteen for the drug violation didn’t produce a totally negative outcome for Gourneau and owner Witt. While they had to forfeit the purse the horse had earned for winning his June 28 race, they essentially got the money back because they had the horse who had finished second, Witt’s Rojo, and that horse was elevated to first place.
Note that the Gourneau horse who was scratched out of the Derby Trial Stakes last Monday, Mano Dura, a Keen Ice colt, is racing tonight in race 6, an allowance optional claimer. Does the colt have what it takes to win Witt the Manitoba Derby that has eluded him for years? The Derby goes two weeks from tonight.
During the kerfuffle over scratches, how did ASD’s two highly-publicized handicappers, Kirt and Stretch, fare with their suggested wagers in the three race cards? They could each boast of having a winning week.
If you followed Stretch’s plays over the three nights, you would have profited to the tune of $375.87 and would have made $65.57 with Kirt’s picks. Their best play came Wednesday with a pick-4 that paid $288.95. Kirt had it once, Stretch had it twice. Of the 21 races, Kirt correctly predicted nine winners, Stretch predicted seven. To follow their bets tonight, click on the Player Portal on the ASDowns.com website.