It was an especially tough winter that just wouldn't go away. Season #57 gets underway Sunday, May 4, and I have a feeling this year is going to be special. I can't explain why or tell you what's going to happen, but something great is in the air - you can smell it!
Perhaps it's because this is the Year of the Horse, or maybe the reason is that this time around we aren't starting off under the cloud of doubt that hung over us at the beginning of last season, but this year just feels right!
And the recent accord signed by our Manitoba Jockey Club and the Province means all energies can be focused on what really counts, horse racing and not lawsuits.
I have nothing but good vibes about this season. I liken this feeling to those I had as a youth when I started coming to the Downs with my parents in the early 1960s. There was always an air of excitement at the track - it was a fun place to be - the thundering hooves of the thoroughbreds, the smell of burgers on the grill, the roar of the crowd as they screamed encouragement to the horse they had bet.
In preparation for this year, I've been cleaning out the Downs' memory vault and I have a host of tales to tell you from years gone by - let's call them "Tails From Assiniboia."
Let's get started with a quick look back at Opening Days from the past.
25 Years Ago – April 30, 1989:
Jockey Todd Kabel scores a hat trick (Morning Duel, Fly Raider Fly and Windsockie) and finished second twice from eight mounts.
30 Years Ago – May 4, 1984:
22-year-old Vickie Warhol set the track on fire when she rode a record-setting five winners (Intrepid Eagle, Nareba, Robin's Hawk, Sails Ahoy and Inflated) on the opening day, nine-race card.
40 Years Ago – May 12, 1974:
Trainer Gordie Marsh and jockey great Bobby Stewart team up for an opening day hat trick (Stout Me, Kelso's Kin and Boss of All).
45 Years Ago – May 16, 1969:
Female pioneer jockey, 19 year old Barbara Jo Rubin makes a special appearance at the Downs and wins the first race of the year on Maureen Deb.
50 Years Ago – June 11, 1964:
Racetrackers set an opening day betting record when they wager $181,832 on the eight-race card.
To wrap up my first blog, I want to share with you a photo I found in the off season. It was one of literally hundreds that came across while I was searching for "golden nuggets." This above photo is of 2-year-old filly Frosty Witch.
On the back of the photo is written, "Frosty Witch, 2-year-old filly bred by Daryl Lumax - first horse to set foot on Assiniboia race track."
I'm not sure where the photo came from or who wrote on the back of it, but as the new season gets set to leave the starting gate, sharing this photo to launch a season of promise just seemed right!
NOTE: Historian can use your help! If anyone has information about the Downs' photographer from the early 1960s, Bob Barnes, or his descendants, I would appreciate hearing from you. Thank you!