Thursday, April 8, 2021

Assiniboia Downs The Insider E-Newsletter

Vol. 16 No. 13 (Issue #784)

By Ivan Bigg


Weekly Horseplayer Report and Fun Stuff

and, remember, if you don’t receive The Insider in the usual way,
you can always find it--and past columns--at



Your morning waker-upper:
The most exciting prep race of the year?

Bullet briefs . . .

  • Timed workouts begin on ASD's main track -- by a clocker who once served the military
  • COVID causes postponement of Woodbine’s April 17 opening
  • What did Andy Beyer's book, "My $50,000 year at the races," teach us?
  • Losing a good one: One-time ASD track announcer Richard Grunder retires
  • With just three weeks to the Kentucky Derby, one big prep race remains in Arkansas
  • Why am I giving myself a shout-out? Do I deserve it?
NEXT PLAYER’S CHOICE HANDICAPPING TOURNAMENT IS TWO WEEKS from this Saturday. See the leader board for Handicapper of the Year here. Your seven best tournament results will count toward being named HOTY and winning a trip for two to the Horse Player World Series in Las Vegas.
Click to enlarge.

Want highlights for the next 10 days? Click calendar.
What tracks are racing in April? Find out here.
What are today’s $$$ carryovers? See them here.
Download 2021 LIVE RACING SCHEDULE here.

Do you have your new HPIbet account card that replaces the previous HPI card and the ASD Player Rewards card? Assiniboia Downs has joined the HPI rewards and bonus program and the new program began Monday, Feb. 1. See details here. If you haven't received your new card in the mail call 204-885-3330 (ext. 225) to check on the status.

for VLTs, simulcast racing and dining. Mask-wearing is required.

Pembina 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; Central Hotel (Rookies) 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. except Sunday 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. NOTE: Canad Inns Windsor Park and Green Brier are only open to purchase programs from the kiosks and to make HPI deposits on self-serve terminals. Both casinos and Quest Inn remain closed.

with daily specials. Fridays feature a Top Sirloin Steak dinner for $24.95 and Saturdays it’s Certified Angus Prime Rib dinner also for $24.95. Dinners are served from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Gulfstream’s Rainbow 6 has reached $300K. But ALWAYS pay attention to the rolling Super Hi-5s at Gulfstream, Tampa and Santa Anita. The pool builds up from race to race when not won, giving you the opportunity to strike when the pool total is fat and the field size is small, with seven horses. Could a player make a living just following Super Hi-5s in this way?

He once supplied soldiers with food and drink
Now "stop-watch" Sheldon provides trainers and race fans with clocker reports

Sheldon Riskin is back at it.

With his thumb on a stop-watch, peering intently out of a window in the ASD press box, the 64-year-old-- who once helped supply Canadian soldiers with food and drink--started clocking horse workouts Tuesday in preparation for the beginning of live racing on Monday, May 17.

This is his eleventh season and a conversation with him leads to the conclusion the track would be hard-pressed to come up with anyone who takes the job more seriously. He refers to horse people as “family” and says “you have to be respectful to them.” He says he rises 4 a.m. every morning, ultimately heads to the backstretch diner for coffee, then trudges up the dozens of stairs to the press box to be ready for his first clocking at 6 a.m. “Usually it’s Shelley Brown’s horses and Steve Gaskin’s,” he says. Trainers phone or text him to tell him what horses to clock. There are identifying markings on horse saddle clothes but Riskin often just recognizes the horses themselves.

If he clocks 20 horses before the 8:30 a.m. break, he knows it’s going to get even busier--with up to 70 horses--so he calls in back-up which could be race secretary Dustin Davis or assistant race secretary/track announcer Kirt Contois. Clocking ends between 10:30 and 11 a.m. and you’re likely to see his workout times posted on the Equibase website by noon. By noon! Wow!

His most memorable clocking? Balooga Bull, coming in at :58 and change,” he said. “My God, I couldn’t believe it.” Balooga Bull, of course, was one of ASD’s greats, being voted Horse of the Year twice and winning the Gold Cup Stakes three times. (Anything under one minute for a 5-furlong workout is considered very quick.)

In an earlier career, for 25 years, he said, “I was a Canadian Forces bar supervisor.” That was primarily at the 17 Wing military base in Winnipeg for air force personnel. His job as a civilian was to keep the bar well-stocked and the fridges well-filled with food. But his love for horses on the side had him playing in a harness-racing tournament at the now-defunct Greenwood race track in Toronto in 1988 where, he said, he finished first and collected $5,000.

And who were the first horses he clocked this season? Go here.

A BIG SHOUT-OUT TO . . . ME . . . for following what I wrote in last week’s Insider, resulting in my winning the late pick-5 at Aqueduct Saturday, turning $32.40 into $1,670. When I was constructing my ticket, I felt more like a reader of The Insider than the writer. The Insider had said the Wood Memorial was the most contentious of the three prep races being run that day (which included the Blue Grass and the Santa Anita Derby).

So, after finding the other four legs of the pick-5 relatively straightforward, I simply took “all” nine horses in the Derby prep race in a 60-cent wheel that looked like this: 1 x 3 x 1 x 9 x 2. And ta-da, the longest shot on the board, #3 Bourbonic at 72-1 mowed ‘em down late in the Wood, producing the mega payoff for a minuscule outlay. That guy, Bigg, is actually worth paying attention to some time! Did you?

One more biggie

Arkansas Derby goes Saturday with Baffert's Concert Tour the horse to beat

After his Medina Spirit faltered in last week’s Santa Anita Derby, finishing second to Rock Your World, Bob Baffert will be looking for a stellar performance from Concert Tour in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby in a bid to win his seventh Kentucky Derby three weeks from this Saturday. Baffert seemed to have the Derby sewn up two weeks ago with Life Is Good but the colt was sidelined with an injury that now leaves the field more wide open.

Concert Tour is three-for-three including victories in the San Vicente at Santa Anita and the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. And the colt’s Equibase speed rating is where it needs to be: 106 and 105 respectively.

His main competition is likely to come from Brad Cox’s Caddo River despite the colt’s fifth place finish behind Concert Tour in the Rebel. The colt was rank and didn’t run his expected race. Previous to that, Caddo River won the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn with a 101 E speed. He appears to be a later-maturing colt.

*       *       *
Something for everyone
Last Saturday's three prep races among the most exciting of the season

Rock Your World beats Medina Spirit in the Santa Anita Derby
It was worth getting up last Saturday if nothing more than to watch the three Kentucky Derby qualifying races. All three were exciting.

NOW who do you like to win the Kentucky Derby three weeks from this Saturday? Coming into that weekend Essential Quality was thought to be the #1 Derby choice but he worked hard to win the Blue Grass; meanwhile, favoured Medina Spirit lost to Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby and we have a last-to-first bombs-away horse, Bourbonic, coming out of the Wood Memorial that should enjoy the extra ground in the 1 ¼-mile Derby.

(Incidentally, Bourbonic wasn’t even listed in a Kentucky Derby future pool. That’s how remote his chances were thought to be.)
WIN A TON IN '21: "My $50,000 year at the races" said it all; are you doing it?

Paying attention to track biases made Andy a windfall
You shouldn’t have to read speed guru Andy Beyer’s book, “My $50,000 year at the races” to do it--unless you need proof, of course. What I’m talking about is watching for track biases and making the most of them. For example, why would you bet horses from inside post positions if outside post horses are winning? Duh!

Santa Anita’s race card Saturday was a prime example. The first race on the turf was won gate-to-wire by #3 I’ll Do It for You at 19-1. The second race, a mile on the dirt, was won by #3 King Abner at 6-1 who also wired the field. I had had enough: In the third race, I bet a 60-cent superfecta box on five horses who had the highest PACE numbers, avoiding horses that were come-from-behind types. My $72 box returned $330. And in race 11, I made sure to include 11-1 front-runner #12 Quiet Secretary in a mile race on the turf. Ho-hum, the filly wired the field, setting up a 20-cent pick-6 that paid almost $700 which I collected for an $83 ticket and that the “I won bigger” betting group had four times.

What will happen in a few weeks if Santa’s track starts favouring closers? Then you’ll obviously discount horses who are currently winning in gate-to-wire fashion.

WOODBINE OPENING POSTPONED; TRACK HOPES TO BEGIN AFTER MAY 6: Ontario’s spiking COVID cases has resulted in Woodbine having to postpone the opening of its thoroughbred meet on Saturday, April 17. The track is hoping to begin after May 6 when the stay-at-home order is lifted. “If we do not receive permission to safely operate live racing during a lockdown situation after the stay-at-home is lifted, our industry and business could be greatly impacted as trainers will not bring their horses to Woodbine Racetrack and more horses will be shipped-out to the United States where there are plenty of racing opportunities,” said CEO Jim Lawson in a media release. “This situation has the potential to have a devastating and long-lasting impact on the thoroughbred industry in Ontario.”

ONE-TIME ASD TRACK ANNOUNCER RICHARD GRUNDER RETIRES AT TAMPA: Kansas native Richard Grunder, 68, the voice of Tampa Bay Downs for 37 years, was once the voice of ASD (1975, 1980-82) and now he’s announced he’s retiring after the May 2 card. “My goal a few years back was to try to go until I was 70,” he told the online Paulick Report, “but I've got a medical situation I need to stay on top of and some related stress issues that led me to realize it's time.” He’s been popular with ASD players and, in turn, he says he likes the race calling of ASD’s Kirt Contois. I wonder who Tampa will tap for the position now--but Grunder’s exciting calls will certainly be missed. Stay tuned.

He has been the conscience of “I won bigger” group play and now he’s helping construct tickets. He’s businessman Stewart Hayek, winner of the March Player’s Choice handicapping tournament who, over the past few months, has written copiously about ways to improve the group’s fortunes. “Let the Daily Racing Form tell you what to play,” he has insisted, rather than pigeon-holing the group to make certain plays at certain tracks. Makes sense, of course.

After a conference call Saturday morning in which he loved Rock Your World to win the Santa Anita Derby--and Larry Liebrecht and I liked an 11-1 horse in a tricky leg of the pick-6--he constructed tickets that ultimately returned $48 for each $20 share. The ultimate goal, of course, is to hit the “biggie.” The likely track this Saturday is Santa Anita again. But maybe the DRF will “tell” us to head in a different direction. We’ll see.

GETS BRAVE ON THE LEAD; 150-1 HORSE WINS IRISH GRAND NATIONAL: Horseplayers know the propensity of horses to get brave when they have the lead to themselves and that’s exactly what happened at Fairyhouse race track in Ireland Monday when 150-1 Freewheelin Dylan, a 9-year-old gelding, went to the front in a field of 28 horses in the famous Irish Grand National steeplechase race and never looked back. That was the biggest longshot in the 151-year history of the Grand National. Horses are required to jump 24 fences in the 3-mile 5-furlong race.

Frank Stronach wants to put a three-wheel, single-occupancy electric vehicle on the road whose maximum speed would be the speed allowed in school zones. The wealthy 88-year-old Canadian who built the Magna International car parts empire then gravitated to race tracks including Gulfstream and Santa Anita says he is weeks from breaking ground for a factory near Toronto, pending zoning approval. The vehicle would be three feet by six feet and would be able to travel 100 kilometres on a single battery charge.
THE BEST OF BOB by Bob Gates: Bob digs up the weird, wild and wacky

Get this: Jockey Dick Armstrong rode four winners on June 26, 1969--all of which were trained by Carl Anderson, bred by Max Freed and sired by stallion Joe Wilson. It was a rarity to be sure. Click here to read about other racing oddities found by historian Bob. (First published in August 2019.)
  • This Saturday: Final major Kentucky Derby prep race from Oaklawn Park, the Arkansas Derby
  • Friday, April 30 : Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs
  • Saturday, May 1: Kentucky Derby at Churchill
  • Monday, May 17: ASD live racing begins

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