This Sunday’s running of the Free Press Stakes will be the 52nd edition of the race. The Winnipeg Free Press trophy has a long and storied association with the Downs, beginning with Fremarcton winning the inaugural running of the race in 1960.
From 1960 to 1981 the race was a marathon event that was run over distances of 1½- and 2 ¼-miles. In 1982 the race was changed to a sprint championship and it has since seen its purse increase to $30,000.
The Free Press is one of the premier stakes races for 3-year-olds and up at Assiniboia downs. Multiple winners of the race include Kalfaari (2002, 2003), Smoky Cinder (1999, 2001) and P.C.’s Bluff (1994, 1995, 1997) -- other notable winners include Monsoon Rain, Nephrite and Nifty.
This week we will pay homage to the back-to-back winner of the Free Press in 2004 and 2005 -- Iwoodificould.
"Woody" was purchased by trainer Emile Corbel from a dispersal sale for horses owned by the late great breeder extraordinaire, John Franks. Corbel bought the horse for partners Murray Howell and Joan Wright. In 2004 Woody was the upset winner of the Free Press and afforded the Voice of the Downs, Darren Dunn, the opportunity to conclude the race with one of his many "Dunnisms."
Sadly, we lost Woody the next year with an untimely injury, but not before he won the Free Press for a second time. Joan Wright still speaks highly of Woody and remembers him lovingly.
Wright, who likes to put pen to paper on occasion, wrote some heart-felt memories of Woody, about how, before he left us, he looked in her eyes and caused her to feel something she had never felt before. A final "meeting of the hearts" between her and her horse.
A horse she loved so very much.