Thursday, February 2, 2017

Assiniboia Downs The Insider E-Newsletter

Vol. 12 No. 4 (Issue #571)

By Ivan Bigg

Weekly Horseplayer Report and Fun Stuff

(If this column looks askew in your email, click here for an online version.)


Fastest at 2, Classic Empire makes 2017 debut Saturday in Holy Bull

The horse everyone's been waiting for!

BC Juvenile winner Classic Empire makes 2017 debut at Gulfstream

Classic Empire sets 116 speed fig in BC Juvenile

Three Kentucky Derby prep races go this Saturday but the biggie is the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream because it features a colt, Classic Empire, who set a sizzling 116 Equibase speed fig in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall, a speed no horse has been able to tie or beat. Most 3-year-olds, in fact, have set times well below that in the run up to the Kentucky Derby.

So will Classic Empire equal or exceed his speed as a 2-year-old? He already is a favourite to win the Kentucky Derby; exceeding last year’s speed would go even further in solidifying his chances not only to win the Derby but to capture the Triple Crown.

We’re in an era of great horses. Is Classic Empire the Next One?

The other Derby preps are the Withers at Aqueduct and Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. Is there a dark horse among them?

Bullet briefs . . .

  • Big money got it right. Post 12 WAS a Chrome killer
  • An Ontarian wins the richest horseplayer tourney on the continent
  • Winner of $800,000 in Vegas tourney just needed to double his bankroll!
  • Will Mother's Day brunch and buffet fill before you phone?
  • Open your heart (and your mouth) a week from tonight at Valentine's buffet
  • ASD stakes schedule is released; 10 races honour fan favourites

IS FEBRUARY YOUR MONTH TO SHINE? (DEBREUIL WAS TOPS IN JANUARY): So the $105.80 Dan Debreuil won in his $6 show parlay in five races ($100 of which was matched by the Downs) was the highest of the month so he gets to savour the best prime rib money can buy (because it’s certified Angus prime rib) at a Thursday buffet of his choosing with a guest. Who will win tomorrow night’s and Saturday night’s parlay – and have the Downs match their winnings?

With California Chrome faltering in Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup, no entrants in the Pegasus Pentafecta contest predicted the top five finishers. So a draw was held and James Whapham picked up $25 in wagering vouchers.

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Want highlights for the next 10 days? Click calendar.
What tracks are running in February? Find out here.
What are today’s $$$ carryovers? See them here.
Want to follow sports in the Race Book? NFL-Jets

EVERY FRIDAY, SATURDAY & SUNDAY: Free VLT tournaments starting at 8 p.m. Get into the draw for 10 chances to win $20 in free VLT spins. Top winner from each night participates in a month-end finale for more spins and $250 in prize money.

EVERY FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT: 5-Alive "Double Your Winnings" contest from 7 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. and $10 buy-in poker. Registration 8 p.m. Game starts at 8:30 p.m.

Merry's Jay
One of 10 to be honoured

10 FAN FAVOURITES TO BE HONOURED IN ASD STAKES: The 2017 ASD stakes schedule has just been released showing that horses you loved from the past—or will come to love as a result of what you will read about them—will be honoured in 10 overnight stakes races. It’s a veritable who’s who of great horses and great memories: Merry’s Jay, the first Manitoba-bred winner of the Manitoba Derby, Northern Spike, who made it into the Guinness Book of World Records by virtue of the quickest time in a sprint race, and Kalfaari, Remiewaterbluz, Major Enterprise, Slinkylady, Smoky Cinder, Koleanla, Nocalero and Delay the Call. See the stakes schedule here.

WILL MOTHER’S DAY BRUNCH & BUFFET FILL BEFORE YOU PHONE? Bookings for the Mother’s Day brunch and buffet opened yesterday and already the Terrace Dining Room is half-booked. Well, not really, but waiting too long is going to put you on a waiting list. So be forewarned. There’s brunch during the afternoon races and a dinner buffet afterward for a second seating evening crowd. To avoid disappointment call Samantha today at 204-885-3330 ext. 0. Remember this year is extra-special because it’s Season 60!

A “HEART-Y” PRIME RIB BUFFET IS A WEEK AWAY: Dig into the Downs’ melt-in-your-mouth certified Angus prime rib tonight but remember, too, that next Thursday’s buffet will be “Valentine’s inspired” so who you gonna bring out for a memorable celebration of Valentine’s Day? Reserve at 204-885-3330 ext. 0.



The big money got it right

Low exotic payoffs show that California Chrome was shunned by many

Arrogate wins Pegasus: Big money "knew"

ASD players in the Downs Race Book Saturday expressed surprise at the seemingly low exotic payouts in the Pegasus World Cup despite California Chrome finishing out of the money.

Payouts seemed to illustrate that big money bettors discounted the chances of California Chrome to perform well out of the killer 12 post so they made significant wagers combining Arrogate with other horses.

Compare, for example, the 12-horse Pegasus race with the eight-horse 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Despite being won by 3/5 standout, American Pharoah, payoffs were a lot higher in the Classic than in the Pegasus.

American Pharoah (3/5)
Effinex (33/1);
Honor Code (9/2);
Keen Ice (9/1)

PAYOUTS: $2 exactor $76.40; $1 triactor $161; $1 superfecta $612

Arrogate (4/5)
Shaman Ghost (19/1)
Neolithic (23/1)
Keen Ice (16/1)

PAYOUTS: $2 exactor $33.80; $1 triactor $104; $1 superfecta $463

The only wager that didn’t seem out of whack was the Super High 5. A $1 ticket in the BC Classic paid $1,714. The Pegasus Super Hi 5 paid $6,781. It seems the big money didn’t go that deeply.

*       *       *

1 winner out of 26 starters

Nagging feeling was right

Post 12 remains a killer at Gulfstream in 1 1/8-mile races

A nagging feeling gnawed at me right from the moment I found out that California Chrome had drawn post 12 in the Pegasus World Cup and the ONLY horse to have won from out there since 2006 (when the refurbished track opened) out of 25 starters had been Big Brown who later went on to bomb in the Belmont.

What a cruel irony it would be, I mused, if California Chrome would end up bombing himself from Big Brown’s WINNING post.

That’s why my tickets on the Pegasus avoided taking a strong stand on Chrome or Arrogate and instead concentrated on two other horses I liked: Shaman Ghost whom I thought would finish among the top two or three and Keen Ice, a plodder, whom I thought would be coming late to finish third or fourth. So my superfecta wheels were Arrogate/Chrome/Shaman in the first and second position wheeled to Keen Ice and “all” in the third and fourth positions. In the exactor, I wheeled Shaman under Arrogate and Chrome.

So the outcome of the race—Arrogate, Shaman Ghost, Neolithic, Keen Ice--wasn’t a big surprise. My two horses came through for me. IT WAS A BIG SURPRISE, THOUGH to someone who arrived at the Downs that evening without having seen the race. “Where did California Chrome finish?” he asked casually while waiting to be served at the bar. I told him and his face turned pale. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said. “I had $4,000 to show on him.”

Kind of the empty feeling Big Brown fans were left with back in ’08. The Brown/Chrome connection had come full circle. Watch the Pegasus here.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I have been a horse racing fan since the age of seven. I cried when I heard Secretariat died. I am 74. I hope Arrogate outlives me so I don't have to cry again.” -- Gulilat Tesfaye

Life in the fast lane

Cole Bennett is already pointing two horses to opening day at Woodbine

Cole Bennett
Now makes Woodbine home

Living life in the fast, crowded lane, 19-year-old Cole Bennett, who trained at the Downs the past two years, is now firmly ensconced in Toronto-area life where he’s renting a condo just six minutes from Woodbine race track where he plans to have Secret Weapon and Concorso entered on opening day April 9 even though the training track doesn’t open for a month.

In a phone interview with The Insider on the weekend, Bennett (104-15-15-8 at the Downs last year) says he is training seven horses for three owners, has or is schooling 21 2-year-olds for other owners and, on the side, is also working with show horses including riding them himself.

“I’m working my a— off,”
he admits but, since his mother Sharon’s death at only 49 last October he says he’s also learning to enjoy life, including attending a Blue Jays game (getting in and out of the place is hell, he says) and a Toronto Argos game.

In 10 races he entered at Woodbine after he left the Downs last year, he had three seconds and a third. His About a Girl, winner of the Jack Hardy Stakes at the Downs, was claimed for $6,250.

And what does he miss most about ASD? “Good friends, a couple trainers especially.” And ambitions now for a training title? “Give me two years,” he said only half-jokingly.

YOU NAMED ME WHAT? Of Horse I’ll Win. Who could not love this play on words? She’s a 3-year-old Pure Prize filly who was bred in Illinois and is racing in Florida.


McKellar strikes first

Retired cop first to pick up $1,000 in Player's Choice tourney

TOURNEY TOPPERS: From left--Brian McKellar (1st), Alan Hampton (2nd), Dave Blackmore (4th)

He’s back! After sharing the Handicapper of the Year title with retired railwayman Maurice Gregoire three years ago, retired policeman Brian McKellar was back on top in the newly revised Player’s Choice handicapping tournament Saturday.

It was the first tournament of the year in which prize money was more than doubled and a cap was put on horse odds ($42 for win, $22 to place). McKellar received $1,000, a trophy and the most points toward becoming Handicapper of the Year where a player’s best point performances in seven tournaments during the year are totalled up.

Playing $2 win/place on 10 horses, McKellar’s bankroll grew to $81.20 (double his outlay of $40, similar to the winner of the $2.9 million tournament in Las Vegas who had also doubled his outlay). His best play was Hot and Heavy at 8/1 in the ninth race at Tampa, ironically a horse that had killed the “I won big” group’s chances for a big score in the pick-5. The group’s key had finished second.

Runners up were accountant Alan Hampton (prize money $400) who rebounded from some tough beats last year. His bankroll was $5 less than McKellar’s at $76.40. Third (prize money $200): George Moehring, bankroll $70.90. Fourth ($100 prize money): Dave Blackmore, bankroll $51. Fifth ($50 prize money): Barry Mymko, bankroll $46.20.

*        *         *

$2.9 million Vegas tourney proves tough but fun

ASD players stumble but a Woodbine player wins top prize of $800,000

Ray Arsenault (left) receives trophy and $800,000 U.S. from NTRA CEO Alex Waldrop (WEG/Michael Burns photo)

ASD’s Roger Jones and Bill Drew had a rough go of it in the $2.9 million National Thoroughbred Racing Association handicapping tournament in Las Vegas on the weekend. But the next-best thing happened: A Canadian won the $800,000 ( U.S.) top prize!

Described as one of the nicest people you could ever meet, the Canadian is Ray Arsenault, 64, a transportation broker who lives in Thornhill, Ont. near Toronto. He plays at Woodbine. His total bankroll after three days and 53 mythical wagers of $2 win/place was $407.70. (REMARKABLE FACT: He just needed to double his money to win the tourney. His outlay was $4 x 53 = $212.) It was Ray’s seventh appearance at the annual event. Runner-up was Stephen Wolfson with $361.10. He had won the tournament in 2003.

THE TWO ASD PLAYERS FINISHED: After making 36 plays ($72 in mythical wagers) in the first two days of the tournament, Jones, a Winnipeg transit driver, finished 464th with $80.80 in winnings and businessman Drew was 535th with $64.40 in winnings. There were 654 entries (129 players had two entries).

Roger rebounded nicely, though, in consolation play on the third day, Sunday, finishing 35th among 464 entries. It wasn’t good enough for prize money (which paid up to 20th place) but it did give him a modicum of bragging rights. (He had picked a 13/1 horse at Oaklawn.)

A few of you emailed your picks to help the pair. One of mine, an 11/1 horse in the last race at Aqueduct on Saturday won, although Roger said he hadn’t seen the email. And another horse I had sent on Friday, a 62/1 horse at Gulfstream lost by just over a length. (It was cutting back to a sprint after showing speed in a route.) Both ASD players described the experience as very enjoyable.

By entering online tournaments through the year. Finish among the top five or so players and you’ll receive free airfare, hotel and entry into the tournament.

Read more about the Woodbine winner and his picks here.
Watch an interview with the winner here.


THAT'S RACING! He was too embarrassed to want his name used in this item and I guess you can’t blame him. A player told me Saturday that he loved two horses at Turf Paradise and was playing a $5 triactor wheel with those two horses on top with all horses on the bottom. As he was tapping in his plays in his HPI account on his smartphone, he said the “all” button somehow eluded him so he punched in each horse’s number in the third position. Or so he thought. I’m sure you know what’s about to follow: Somehow he missed tapping one of the numbers which, of course, is the horse who finished third. Cost him about $500. He called it his first “senior’s moment” even though that’s 40 years away. You could almost hear the mischievous gods of horse-racing cackling.

Honouring spirit of the horse

HONOURING SPIRIT OF HORSES AFTER 43 HORSES DIE IN FIRE: Out of the ashes of a devastating fire that killed 43 horses at Classy Lane Stables in Ontario a year ago comes a fine arts display to capture the spirit of the horse in many ways—paintings, drawings, mixed media, photography, sculptures—by many local and Canadian artists that go on display next Thursday at the Cre8ery Gallery on Adelaide Street. A reception Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. opens the exhibit which can then be seen until Tuesday, Feb. 21. Hours are Tuesday to Friday noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday noon to 5 p.m. Visit the website here. (Let The Insider know what you think! Email

CASSE HAS THE SHORTEST--AND LONGEST--PRICED HORSES IN FUTURE POOL: Trainer Mark Casse has two horses at the opposite ends of odds in the second Kentucky Derby future pool. His Classic Empire is favoured at 5/1 but his State of Honor is a 175/1 bombs away longshot. See odds on other horses in the future pool that was wagered on from Friday to Sunday here. I’m leaning toward Gunnevera who ended up at 24/1.

SINGLE TICKET TAKES DOWN PICK 5 AS "I WON BIG" GROUP GRIMACES: Going into the fourth leg of the pick-5 at Tampa Bay Downs last Saturday, “I won big” participants knew they were sitting on a big one and needed their key horse to win that race to bring home the bacon. Though their key, Musical America, appeared to be much the best after his five-length maiden victory on the turf, he couldn’t run down pace-setting Hot and Heavy who had big pace numbers and had added blinkers. His win at 8/1 resulted in a single ticket taking down the entire jackpot of $32,000 ( U.S.). Had the group’s key won, there likely would have been four or five winners. C’est la vie.

Here are two legs the group got right with shrewd handicapping. Pick-3s with these horses paid in the hundreds of dollars:
(1) Race 6: Fashion Runaway (4/1 morning line): Paid $11.20. Rule: Came out of a key race (which means the top two finishers went on to win their next race)
(2) Race 8: Sandy Whirlwind (15/1 morning line): Paid $17. Angle: Trainer excels with longshot turf horses.

Catching those kinds of horses seems to signal that success is imminent. See you Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

Readers write . . .

Help! Foal needs a name

“Hi Ivan: In the early morning of Jan. 30 my mare, Slewie Blues, gave birth to a little chestnut filly which I have been advised is the first Manitoba-bred baby of 2017. The filly is sired by Wilko (owned by Frank Stronach/Adena Springs North.) Slewie Blues is the daughter of Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew. It would be nice to get some help naming this New Year’s Manitoba baby from your readers!”.Dean Melnic, breeder and CTHS director

Hi Dean:
Congratulations. And—to Insider readers—what do you think the filly should be named? A couple things you may consider: This is the first baby of the year and the Downs is celebrating its 60th season this year. But don’t let that limit you. Email your foal name suggestions (no more than three) to and maybe you’ll be proudly pointing to a filly on the track in two years saying “I named her!”

HPIBET Marshall Posner

Tips ’n’ Tricks

with Marshall Posner

Q. How do I use the new Loadhub feature to deposit funds into my HPIbet account?

A. It’s now even easier to deposit funds into your HPIbet account. In addition to using Interac Online (only available for some banks), credit cards and/or by making a deposit at the track or a local off-track betting location, HPIbet recently added a new method for making quick and easy deposits into your betting account. This new service is called Loadhub ( and it basically lets you make a deposit using either cash or your debit card at any Canada Post outlet.

Just log in to your HPI account and go to the deposits and withdrawals section and click on the LOADHUB tab. The best method is to use your smartphone because you’re going to need to provide a QR code to the Canada Post representative in order to make the deposit (view image here). However, if you only have computer access, then you can simply print the QR code at home and bring that in to Canada Post where they can scan it (view image here). Please note there is a $5.00 service charge. Also, the minimum transaction amount is $10 and the maximum transaction is $500.

Another new feature recently added is the ability to Manage Your Weekly Deposit Limit. By accessing this feature from any Deposit page, you can have full control of your online spending (view image here). Any changes you make to this feature will take 24 hours to go into effect.

Got a question for Marshall? Email

HISTORY ON THE HOOF: The best of Bob

After the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, Assiniboia Downs probably has one of the greatest collections of racing memorabilia in Canada. In this week's blog, Bob gives you a tour of the Racing Through Time historical exhibit located in the main floor lobby across from Guest Services.


"What a race! What a sport! What a horse!
Pete Aiello calling the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream

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