by Bob Gates
The 2016 live racing season kicks off on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8, as has become our custom at Assiniboia Downs, and have I got a story for you. It goes like this:
An old Cherokee told his grandson, "My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth."
The boy thought about it, and asked, "Grandfather, which wolf wins?"
The old man quietly replied, "The one you feed."
-- Source Unknown
So what does this have to do with horse racing?
Well, I see the evil "black" wolf as a metaphor for all that is negative about the sport we love. On the other hand, the good wolf is "white" and stands for what's positive and cherished about the "Sport of Kings."
For the first time in many years we enter a new racing season with no political drama hanging over us like a dark cloud. What a breath of fresh air that is!
Sure, our all-important horse count has been impacted by a quarantine in the United States, but we will have more horses than last year. We've also just been dealt the devastating loss of the master of K5 Stables, Phil Kives, who will be fondly remembered and sadly missed by so many.
Armed with the ammunition above, the skeptics, naysayers and "Debbie Downers" of the world will fixate on the evil wolf. But the true supporters in our little corner of the world at the Downs can win out.
So let's make a point to hold onto our enthusiasm and all that is positive, regardless of how events unfold. There is no earthly reason why the good wolf cannot prevail, if we let it.
I'll get off my little soapbox now and take a look back at opening days from years gone by:
15 Years Ago – May 12, 2001:
After a 3 1/2-year hiatus, Darren Dunn, the "Voice of the Downs" returns to his familiar perch in the press box to call the races.
20 Years Ago – May 12, 1996:
New General Manager, Sharon Gulyas, the first woman in Canada to hold such a post, oversees her inaugural opening day.
25 Years Ago – April 28, 1991:
Jockey Tim Gardiner scores an opening day natural hat trick with wins in the 6th race (Don't Squeal On Me), 7th (Belle's Beauty) and 8th (Lucky Frenchman) en route to 171 victories on the season and the 1991 Leading Rider Title.
35 Years Ago – April 26, 1981:
Michael Gobuty, new owner of the Downs, sees his 10-race card attract 7,726 patrons who wager a whopping $553,058.
40 Years Ago – May 7, 1976:
Track announcer Jim Farrell calls his first race at the Downs and jockey Jimmy Anderson and trainer Glen Ball combine to win three (May Melina, Lexico and Handsome Pole) of the nine opening day races.
45 Years Ago - May 7, 1971:
Jockey Bernie "Longshot" Howland rides three winners (Major Law $4.30, Meadeland $83.10 and Mine Host $60.10) along with a second and a third for good measure.
50 Years Ago – June 4, 1966:
Lieutenant Governor, Richard S. Bowles presides over the official opening of the 1966 season and jockey Ronald Namba scores the first winner of his career with Max Freed's, Tiny Will.
55 Years Ago – June 16, 1961:
The Downs records the largest opening day crowd in its 4-year history, on which 6,116 fans wager $163,785.
New Manitoba Derby Collector Card for
Opening Day 2016!
This year the Downs is featuring Series 2 of its popular Manitoba Derby All-Star Collector cards. The first 1,000 fans on Opening Day will receive the Plenty Chilly card, winner of the 1991 Derby for the late Phil Kives.
As always, the first race of the season is the Don Gray Memorial Purse. Don passed on Christmas Day 1993 and I imagine that he and his old boss, Phil Kives, will once again be winning races together in the Great Beyond!
And there you have it! Don't forget, post time for Opening Day Sunday is 7:30 p.m.
Gotta run now, I have a white wolf to feed…