Assiniboia Downs will have a new and dynamic element to its live racing this year and it’s attracting more horses than usual to the prairie track.

There were almost 400 horses on the grounds as of late April and a number of large stables had yet to arrive. The highlight of the 50-day live race meeting, which runs from May 13 to Sept. 9, will be the 70th running of the $٧٥,٠٠٠ Manitoba Derby on Monday, Aug. 6, but it’s the newly adjusted purse schedule and the addition of a $1,500 claiming races, that are attracting new horses from places unknown.

Large stables expected at the Downs for the 2018 season include those of Tom Gardipy Jr. (54 horses) Ardell Sayler (45), Jerry Gourneau (45), Shelley Brown (40), Elton Dickey (35), Don Schnell (35), Eurico Martens (30), Jamie Hartmann (25) and Steve Gaskin (25).

Riders expected for the 2018 meeting include: Adolfo Morales, Antonio Whitehall, Kayla Pizarro, Tyrone Nelson, Prayven Badrie, Renaldo Cumberbatch, Chavion Chow, Stanley Chadee Jr., Dario Dalrymple, Richard Mairs, Sheldon Chickeness and Tim Moccasin, with notable absences being last year’s leading rider Rohan Singh and runner up Chris Husbands. Singh was winning at Lone Star Park as of this writing and Husbands was doing the same at Woodbine.

The newly-adjusted purse structure was generating phone calls and interest throughout the winter, as was the addition of a new $1,500 claiming price, and for good reason. Non-winners of the year running for a claiming price of $1,500 compete for a purse of $7,500; non-winners of the year running for a $2,500 compete for a purse of $8,200; and non-winners of the year running for a $3,500 claiming price compete for $8,400.

The right kind of horse could win a non-winners of the year race for a $1,500 claiming price and come right back and win the same condition for a $2,500 tag, because races of lesser value don’t count against eligibility requirements. The horse could then follow up with a win in the non-winners of two condition for $2,500 claiming. That’s three wins and a profitable season for any horse in these parts.

The Downs also continues to offer attractive races that are restricted to a group of horses bred in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota and South Dakota, with conditions including maiden claiming $5,000, non-winners of 2 for $5000 and non-winners of 3 for $3,500. This, along with the $1,500 claiming level, have been particularly effective in attracting more horses from these regional areas.

Additionally, any races that are restricted are not considered when it comes to eligibility for other races. A horse that wins a restricted non-winner of 2 condition race can run back in an open non-winners of 2 race. Add in the Waiver Claiming rule, which allows a horse to make one or two starts without the possibility of being claimed (depending on when the horse last started and the level it is entered at) and you have enough rules to make any trainer, or horse, competitive at Assiniboia Downs.

The full 2018 racing, purse and stakes schedules, as well as the first Condition Book containing details on eligibility requirements and Waiver Claiming are available for download on the website, and with ample opportunities to run in with seven to eight races per day on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and select Sunday and Monday holiday cards, a strong meet is expected in 2018.

Assistant director of racing Derek Corbel indicated that the interest level for racing at Assiniboia Downs was the highest it had been for some time, and both the adjusted purse structure and the new claiming price were contributing factors. That would certainly seem to be the part of the reason for the success of the Assiniboia Racing Club, which has now attracted 54 members and bought two new horses for 2018. Each share in the club is worth $500.

If each share makes a profit, you can bet there will be more new owners in 2019.