by Bob Gates
The crazy Kentucky Derby is in the books for another year, so you know live racing at Assiniboia Downs can't be far off. Season #62 at the Downs breaks out of the starting gate at 1:15 p.m. on Mothers' Day, Sunday, May 12, and it should be a banner year!
Last fall BluSlate Inc. released its much-anticipated Sustainability Review on Manitoba's horse racing industry and the 125-page document prepared for the Manitoba Government spoke highly of the Manitoba Jockey Club's operation at the Portage Avenue oval. Here's a sample of BluSlate's comments:
Management Team: "The team is professional and eager to do whatever it takes to make the business work. This was not only evident as we witnessed them preparing for the press event at the start of their live racing meet but also clear through our many interactions with the MJC management over the years through Racetracks of Canada and other industry interactions."
Pari-Mutuel Operations: "It was found that the mutuel tellers, who are the people that process the wagers from customers, exhibited exemplary customer service. That is not common in the industry."
Milestone Races for 2019
90th Running of the Winnipeg Futurity:
The 2019 Winnipeg Futurity will be the 90th running of this prestigious race for 2-year-olds. That makes it the oldest continuously run thoroughbred horse race in western Canadian history. The Futurity was inaugurated in 1930 by Robert James Speers as a race for 2-year-old western Canadian-breds. From 1936 to 1985 the race was opened to 2-year-olds foaled in Canada. In 1986 the Canadian breeding restriction was removed and the race is now an open event for 2-year-olds. The Downs new logo is proof-positive that the Futurity is a spotlight aspect for the upcoming season.
60th Running of the R. J. Speers Memorial Stakes:
The 60th running of the R. J. Speers Memorial honours Robert James Speers, the “Father of Horse Racing” in western Canada. This race has always been an important one on the Downs racing calendar and pays tribute to the man who was the backbone of western Canadian horse racing in its early years.
50th Running of the J. W. Sifton Memorial Stakes:
John W. Sifton may have been born in Ontario, but he was always proud to call Winnipeg, Manitoba home. The reserved master of Stoneacres Farm in Oakbank, Manitoba was fiercely devoted to western Canada. A newspaperman and a sportsman, John had a special love for horses. Not only did he own horses, he was widely regarded as an expert handler and breeder of race horses, hunters and jumpers. The J. W. Sifton Memorial Stakes celebrates its 50th running this year andis restricted to Manitoba-breds. John wouldn’t have wanted it any other way!
50th Presentation of the Manitoba Derby's Queen's Cup:
The Queen's Cup was donated by Her Majesty for the running of the Manitoba Centennial Derby in 1970. It was the first and only time that the Royals visited Assiniboia Downs. This year Queen Elizabeth's cup will be presented to the Manitoba Derby winner for the 50th time.
Special Anniversaries in 2019 for Local Historical Events
15 Years Ago - May 17, 2004:
In the early morning hours, a fire destroyed the Assiniboia Downs Press Box and crippled the track's ability to continue with the meeting that had just gotten underway. With staunch determination, the Downs put a work-around in place that resulted in a resumption of racing a short 11 days later on May 28. Were there challenges that had to be overcome? Absolutely, but the Downs together with it's business partners made it work!
25 Years Ago - May 8, 1994:
The Manitoba Jockey Club operates its first season of racing following its purchase of Assiniboia Downs in September 1993. In addition, Ardell Sayler's Chime Time won the inaugural running of the Don Gray Memorial.
50 Years Ago - May 16, 1994:
Female pioneer jockey, 19-year-old Barbara Jo Rubin made a special appearance at the Downs and won the first race of the year on Maureen Deb.
From the Archives: Highlights of Past Opening Days
30 Years Ago – April 30, 1989:
Jockey Todd Kabel scores a hat trick with Morning Duel, Fly Raider and Windsockie and finishes second twice from eight mounts.
35 Years Ago – May 4, 1984:
22-year-old jockey Vickie Warhol wows the crowd with a record-setting five winners: Intrepid Eagle, Nareba, Robin's Hawk, Sails Ahoy and Inflated on the opening day, nine-race card.
45 Years Ago – May 13, 1974:
Trainer Gordie Marsh and jockey great Bobby Stewart team up for an opening day hat trick with Stout Me, Kelso's Kin and Boss of All.
55 Years Ago – April 29, 1964:
Downs 1963 leading jockey, Frank Barroby, starts off the year just the way he ended the previous season, by winning three races on the opening day card with Robby-Miles, Steve's Trust and Winterish.
60 Years Ago – June 11, 1959:
A year after Gold Ern won the first race ever run at Assiniboia Downs on June 10, 1958, the 5-year-old mare returns to Winnipeg and celebrates another opening day victory with a win in the 7th race with Dickie Armstrong again in the irons.
As we all know, the first race of the season bears the name of the late, great trainer, Don Gray who passed away on Christmas Day 1993. This year is the 26th running of the Don Gray Memorial. Talk about memories!
See you Mothers' Day, Sunday May 12! Parade to Post is 1:15 p.m.