Thursday, February 14, 2019

Assiniboia Downs The Insider E-Newsletter

Vol. 14 No. 5 (Issue #675)

By Ivan Bigg


Weekly Horseplayer Report and Fun Stuff

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


It's not her best distance, says trainer, but . . .

. . . she just posted "her best workout ever"

Exercise rider Mike Nault and owner/trainer Don Schnell at Turf Paradise where Escape Clause had her "best ever" workout (Craig Bonn photo)

"It's like Gretzky facing a field of Gretzkies"

That’s how owner/trainer Don Schnell describes the challenge facing Manitoba’s mighty mare, Escape Clause, when she, along with six other fillies and mares, enters Santa Anita's starting gate Saturday afternoon in the Grade 2 $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes. In the toughest test of her 3-year career, she’ll be facing horses with Grade 1 and Breeders' Cup experience.

Although 7-furlongs “isn’t her best distance,” Schnell told The Insider in a recent interview from her stable at Turf Paradise (he’d prefer a mile), the mare posted “her best workout ever” on Saturday. Her 47-second clocking for 4-furlongs was the second-fastest time of 45 horses who worked out that morning on the Turf Paradise track.

In the quiet desert darkness, Schnell will load Escape Clause into a trailer at 4 a.m. tomorrow and away they will head west to a state in which his mare has variously been described as “the darling of Del Mar” and “the Assiniboia Assassin.” The trip to Santa Anita takes seven hours, interrupted by one stop for gas and a “mint break.”

She’s so fond of mints—munching on “40 or 50” a day, Schnell said--she’ll even poke her head into the tack room, knowing that’s where the mint stash is. Good thing they don’t test for mint consumption after a race!

Who will Escape Clause face? See the race entrants here.

BAZE’S RIDING STRATEGY: Jockey Tyler Baze told Don Schnell he will wait until later in Saturday’s race to make his move with Escape Clause than he did when she won the La Canada Stakes. “She has a tendency to loaf when she’s on top,” Schnell said. “She thinks once she’s passed all the horses, the race is over.”

Don Schnell predicts that a 114 Equibase speed figure will be required to win Saturday’s Santa Monica Stakes. Escape Clause’s highest figure is 112. She posted that in her last race, the La Canada, but she wasn’t all-out.

Similar to what happened after Escape Clause won the La Canada Stakes, if she wins the Santa Monica on Saturday, a CRAZY HOUR celebration will ensue in the Clubhouse: beer, wine and shots just $2.95 and half-price appetizers. Go-o-o-o-o, E.C.!

Bullet briefs . . .

  • Get five times Player Rewards points and other perks on holiday Monday
  • Why does a horse owner's death remind us of the moon landing 50 years ago?
  • What tracks were "better bettor" ones for ASD players in January?
  • Is it worth making a Kentucky Derby future pool wager? See Marshall's take.
  • First 50-point Kentucky Derby prep race goes Saturday. At what track?
  • When Hollywood stars came schmoozing at Winnipeg tracks: Bob tells us.
POKER PLAYER SURPRISED BY “3 FOR THE MONEY” CONTEST WIN: A Saturday night poker player who took a break from Texas hold ‘em to predict the last three winners on Saturday’s Woodbine Mohawk card, Rick Boucher, was surprised to be collecting $125 in wagering vouchers as winner of the “3 for the money” contest. How many others did he share the good news with? How many of his buddies will be taking a peak at that track now as “3 for the money” continues every Saturday? Congrats, Rick.

And, on the thoroughbred side, there were no winners so $75 is at stake Saturday in the first three legs of the late pick-4 at Fair Grounds where the 50-point Risen Star Derby prep race will be run. Holiday Monday’s special contest play will be the first three legs of the late pick-4 at Oaklawn where the Southwest prep race will be featured.

Win these in a draw after every prep race
NEW KENTUCKY DERBY COUNTDOWN CONTEST BEGINS MONDAY: Who’s going to win the Kentucky Derby prep race for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park on holiday Monday? Submit your entry in the Race Book on Monday in the Kentucky Derby Countdown Contest for a chance to win a $200 bankroll to play the Derby on the first Saturday in May. This will be the first of 15 prep races leading to the Derby. A draw for two “Justify” Triple Crown glasses will be made after every prep race.

See below.
QX104 � Today's Country

Official stations of horse racing.
Click to listen

94.3 The Drive

Click to expand


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? Jets. ASD subscribes to NHL League Pass - watch any NHL game any day!

FREE VLT TOURNAMENTS: Enter in the Club West Gaming lounge every Friday and Saturday 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.

POKER EVERY FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT: $10 buy-in poker in the clubhouse on the second level. Registration starts at 7:00 p.m and the game starts at 8:30 p.m. Maximum of 60 players. No late registration. Royal Flush progressive jackpot for tomorrow, Friday, is $1,657.50.

VALENTINE’S DINNER AND DANCE TONIGHT featuring Chef Gerardo’s fabulous Italian-inspired feast. Menu. Call Samantha at 204-885-3330 ext. 0 to reserve tickets for tonight.

Presidents Day in the U.S.; Louis Riel Day in Manitoba

Great racing, lots of perks

5x player rewards, Derby countdown contest; draws for wagering vouchers

Louis Riel Day commemorates Metis leader whose List of Rights led to the founding of multi-cultural Manitoba in 1870.
Take advantage of these perks at the Downs on Louis Riel Monday:
  • 5x Player Reward points for ALL wagers
  • Everyone who attends the “I won bigger” workshop at 10:30 a.m. will receive a $2-off coupon for any breakfast item
  • Special “3 for the money” contest
  • Five bonus draws for $10 in wagering vouchers from contest entrants
  • Countdown to the Kentucky Derby contest begins with the Southwest Stakes prep race at Oaklawn. Set of two “Justify” Triple Crown glasses will be awarded in a draw from contest entrants.


  • 10:30 a.m.: Special “I won bigger” betting group workshop on the Clubhouse plaza; $5 top-up for each $20 wagering share; $2 off breakfast items, Group will play pick-5 at Oaklawn (last five races).
  • 11:00 a.m.: Racing begins with Saratoga standardbreds
  • 11:30 a.m.: Laurel Park
  • 11:35 a.m.: Gulfstream Park. See full schedule here.

Derek Corbel
Heads recruitment drive
"C'mon up!"

ASD adjusts purses again to entice more horsemen to the track

For the second year in a row, ASD race purses have been adjusted upward to entice more horsemen and horsewomen to the Downs—and Derek Corbel, the assistant director of racing, will be taking to the skies later this month to spread the good word at tracks and training facilities in the U.S. and western Canada.

ASD purses range from $18,000 at the allowance level down to $7,700 for $1,500 claimers.

See the full 2019 purse schedule here.

Robertino Diodoro
"Can't say enough good things about ASD"
In addition, every horse will be guaranteed at least $200 just for entering a race and the cost of renting a trailer space in the backstretch—including utilities and WiFi—will continue to be just $200 a month.

In making his rounds, Corbel can also point to positive comments about ASD from prominent horsemen such as trainer Robertino Diodoro, who said in the Winner’s Circle last summer after his Sky Promise won the Manitoba Derby: “I can’t say enough good things about Assiniboia Downs. Other tracks should take note.”

Texas lawyer and horse breeder Charlie Smith and Texas cattle rancher and former champion race car driver Henry S. Witt, Jr., both of whom have raced their horses at the Downs for years, have expressed similar sentiments.
Rob Atras and recent bride Brittney with Gilbert the goat in front (Keith McCalmont photo)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "It's hard to find someone who can understand horses as individuals like Rob does. Each horse is very different and we have a lot of sensitive horses in our barn but Rob never loses his patience. Horses just settle for Rob," -- Brittney Atras in an article about new husband Rob Atras’s success since striking out on his own at Aqueduct at the beginning of the year.

The Oakbank, Man. native continues to crush the opposition. His record is 10-6-2-0. If you bet each of his horses to win, you would have made an overall profit of 38 per cent. What horses does he have coming up? Go to and click on “entries” then click on upcoming dates at Aqueduct.


ASD PLAYERS WERE BETTER AT CHARLES TOWN AND PENN NATIONAL: ASD betting stats for January showed that ASD players were better bettors playing Charles Town and Penn National. Sunland, Hawthorne and Oaklawn were also among the 10 tracks showing positive gains. The most challenging were Woodbine Mohawk, Sam Houston, Turfway and The Meadows harness. Remember to play to your strengths to keep money flowing in the right direction.

Larry Liebrecht (right) talks with "Shades" at Tampa
TAMPA’S “SHADES” GIVES A BIG SHOUT-OUT TO ASD RACE-CALLER: ASD race-caller Kirt Contois has a big fan at Tampa Bay Downs--the sunglasses-wearing track handicapper with the mini-mohawk hair style, “Shades.” ASD player Larry Liebrecht, who visited Tampa recently, tells The Insider that Shades told him he occasionally plays ASD races during the summer and that “he loved the race caller at Assiniboia and thought he was one of the best in horse racing.” And what kind of dude is Shades? "A down-to-earth kind of guy," Liebrecht said. I wonder whether Shades knows that Tampa’s announcer, Richard Grunder, used to call races at Assiniboia Downs, too? Hey, ASD announcers take a back seat to no one!

From the innards of the Pegasus Statue at Gulfstream Park on Saturday emerged nasty Mr. Mischief to kill the “I won bigger” betting group’s Rainbow pick-6 tickets with an improbable 50-1 winner in the first leg. That’s why the Bigger group stopped playing Gulfstream on a regular basis. With fewer bucks remaining to play Tampa’s pick-5, the Bigger group didn’t catch anything at that track either. Zero for two at Florida tracks. Sigh. Bacon goes begging again. But the group at least had good news from the previous week when players got back more than half their investment because they overlooked winnings from race favourites being substituted for their scratched horses in Santa’s pick-6.

The group will now try to capitalize on TWO DAYS of chances (10:30 a.m. Clubhouse plaza):

  • This Saturday--Tampa’s late pick-5 and a peek at Santa’s Rainbow
  • And holiday Monday--Oaklawn Park’s pick-5 on the last five races, one of which is the Southwest Kentucky Derby prep race
A DAY NOT TO CELEBRATE? This Saturday is National Do-a-Grouch-a-Favour Day. Just saying.

Dawn Lupul
Beats 51 in tourney
A BIG SHOUT-OUT to Woodbine handicapper Dawn Lupul for winning the media/celebrity part of the NTRA tournaments in Las Vegas this past weekend to earn her a $5,000 donation to her favourite charity--the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. A 16-1 horse at Santa Anita she played because of “improving form,” one of eight win/place plays made by the 52 contestants, helped boost her bankroll to $92.60. “ I looked at the races where confusion seemed likely and attacked those first,” she said. Eclipse award-winning journalist Frank Angst from The Bloodhorse finished second with $87.80.

Winning $800,000 in the main NTRA event with 678 entries was Illinois resident Scott Coles, 34, the youngest winner in the 20 years of the tournament. One Canadian finished among the top 10: defending champion Chris Littlemore finished seventh.


Full circle

Manitoba Derby horse owner dies 50 years after his win and the moon landing

The late Sam Lima, owner of Fire n Desire, is the suited man second from left. (Gerry Hart photo courtesy of Bob Gates)
It was a half century ago, the day before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, that track historian Bob Gates recalls experiencing one of the most memorable days of his life.

It was Manitoba Derby Day, a day in which Bob recalls sharing a special bonding experience with his father as they watched rags-to-riches Fire n Desire beat Icy Song in a fierce duel. “In my humble view it was one of the best, if not the best, horse race ever run at the Downs,” Bob recalls.

Poignantly, that event has come full circle in this 50th anniversary year with the death of Fire n Desire’s owner, Sam Lima at age 89 in his native Toronto. “Racing lost a valued family member,” Bob says, “and the Manitoba Derby Alumni lost a friend.”

Lima’s long racing involvement which included being “a driving force of the Toronto Thoroughbred Racing Club for countless decades” earned him a Sovereign award last year.

Read Bob’s “A Derby Tale Out of this World” here.
(Bob juxtaposes Fire n Desire’s jockey with the moon-walker)


Tips ’n’ Tricks

with Marshall Posner

Q: Is it worth making a Kentucky Derby Future Wager?

This is a timely topic considering that the Kentucky Derby Futures Pool #2 closed this past Sunday. (Pool #1 last November wasn’t offered to Canadians because wagering pools in Canada can’t be carried over from year to year.)

Things to think about:
  1. Demand value and wait until the last minute
    Your money will be tied up for anywhere from 2-4 months. This is a unique experience for horseplayers.

  2. Considering that fact, demand value and remember there’s a strong likelihood the horse you’ve bet will not make the actual race and your wager will be lost. The upside is that a horse you bet at 40-1 will win the Derby at 8-1 and you’ll be a hero.

  3. Wait until the last minute to place your bet—especially if your horse is racing that weekend. (The pools open on Friday and run until Sunday night.)

  4. Watch for other horses in the future pool. Case in point: Coliseum ran Sunday at Santa Anita and basically removed himself from Derby contention based on his second dull performance. However, he still finished at 22-1 in the futures pool. Compare that to Global Campaign impressing in his race at Gulfstream on Saturday. He finished at 22-1 as well. Go figure!

  5. Another key point: Don’t take a short price on a favourite from last year such as Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner. He closed as the second choice at 5-1 based on last year’s racing. Is he the same horse? Taking low odds on him just doesn’t make sense. If he returns in March and impresses, you’ll be able to play him in the third or fourth futures pools, albeit at a slightly lower price.
The next pool—for both the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks--is March 8-10 and the final Derby pool is April 5-7.

See final win odds for Pool #2 here. See possible exactor payoffs here.

Got a question for Marshall? Email

THE BEST OF BOB: Abbott & Costello among stars at Winnipeg tracks

Did you know that Whittier Park and Polo Park were once regular destinations for the Hollywood crowd that included silent film star Anita King, Betty Grable, Harry James, George Raft and the comedy team of Abbott and Costello?

Bob takes you back in time and revisits racing’s glory years at Polo Park and Whittier Park here. (First published in June 2016.)
First 50-point Kentucky Derby prep race goes Saturday at Fair Grounds


  • Tonight: Valentine’s Dinner & Dance on the main level with NuFrequency Light & Sound. $29.95. It features certified Angus prime rib plus Italian-inspired dishes by Chef Gerardo. See menu here. Call Samantha to reserve tickets for tonight at 204-885-3330 ext. 0.
  • This Saturday: Two Kentucky Derby prep races (Risen Star at Fair Grounds worth 50 points) and the 10-point El Camino Derby at Golden Gate. Escape Clause races in the Grade 2 $250,000 Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita
  • Holiday Monday, Feb. 18: Louis Riel Day features perks, perks, perks and a Kentucky Derby Countdown contest begins with a draw after every prep race for a set of two “Justify” Triple Crown glasses. Contest winner receives $200 bankroll to bet the Derby.
  • Saturday, Feb. 23: Backstretch diner opens. Handicapper of the Month tournament.
  • Friday, March 1: Equi-ciser opens in ASD backstretch.
  • Tuesday, March 12: ASD training track opens (weather permitting)

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