by Bob Gates
This week we put the finishing touches on Season #59 at Assiniboia Downs with a weekend featuring five stake races. The Winnipeg Futurity and Matron kick things off on Friday. Saturday night sees the Sifton and Gold Cup, and the season wraps up with the Buffalo on a special Sunday night card.
What a year it's been!
The final figures aren't in yet, but the handle for 2016 should be good news. Derby Day saw our first "Million Dollar Day," thanks to a record setting Super Hi 5 carryover. In addition, the horse population was the most encouraging we've seen in years, and while we've still had more five-horse fields than we'd all like, things are moving in the right direction.
Attendance figures haven't been recorded in some time, but I don’t think anyone would argue that more people attended the races this year. Free admission and free parking are still worth boasting about.
And you've just got to love the positive vibes!
On a sad note, 2016 has seen us lose some dear members of our "racetrack family." Here are a few we lost this year:
- Bill Grohn
- Harry Gumprich
- Philip Kives
- Roma Konyk
- June Sifton
- Garylle Stewart
We will miss each and every one of them!
To close out the season how about a look back at the final days of meets from the past:
10 Years Ago – September 24, 2006:
Day 70: Larry Carter's Elite Mercedes wins the Gold Cup with Alan Cuthbertson in the irons. In doing so Cuthbertson wins his first riding title at the Downs. Ardell Sayler wins his record setting eighth leading trainer title.
20 Years Ago – October 6, 1996:
Day 79: Chris Martin rides a pair of winners en route to back to back rider titles.
25 Years Ago – November 11, 1991:
Day 118: November 11 marks the latest date in Downs' history to wrap up a race meet.
30 Years Ago – October 14, 1986:
Day 110: Todd Kabel wins his first riding title with 147 trips to the winner's circle and J.H. "Red" Johnson captures his first of two trainer titles.
35 Years Ago – November 2, 1981:
Day 134: Jockey Irwin Driedger chalks up a pair of first place finishes on the final day of the longest season ever held at Assiniboia Downs to win 214 races, a single season record that stills stands today.
40 Years Ago – September 7, 1976:
Day 77: The last day of the meet is almost cancelled after four races when an electrical malfunction causes the track lights to go dark. Quick thinking and an even faster "on-call" electrician has the lights back on by 8:35 p.m.
45 Years Ago – August 9, 1971:
Day 56: Jockey Ken Hendricks steals the day with four victories, but it's Bobby Stewart that captures the leading rider title, his fifth. Even more impressive was the fact that Stewart had left for the year and was riding at Blue Bonnets.
50 Years Ago – August 15, 1966:
Day 42: Wendell Mustard's 3-year-old Mr. Campanini wins the final race of the meet. "Campy" would go on to become an Olympic jumper with the American equestrian team.
55 Years Ago – August 16, 1961:
Day 42: Murray Duncan's Precambrian is beaten a head in search of his seventh straight win of the meet, which was only 42 days long. Veteran trainer Wendell Mustard is back at it again when Broad Zone wins the longest horse race in Canada, the Free Press Handicap, at 2 1/4-miles.
And this closes out my final history blog for the year. Starting with next week's Insider you'll see one of my blog stories from years gone by, under the title "The Best of Bob."
I hope you enjoy reading these encore presentations until we return with our live racing schedule in 2017. That's right in just a few short, but cooler months, the Downs will return for its "60th Year of Racing." How exciting is that!
What's in store for this Diamond Anniversary celebration? Right now that's a work-in-progress, but you know it's going to be special!
See you in 2017 and as always, thanks for reading!
I am looking for some assistance in obtaining photographs from our past. Specifically I'm looking for photos of the following Manitoba Derby winners:
- 1962 - Welcome Effort
- 1965 - Flyalong
- 1968 - Son Costume
- 1983 - Gone to Royalty
- 1987 - Steady Power
Some of the above may appear on the cover of an old program, but almost any photo would be appreciated.
I am also looking for photos that might have been taken in 1970 when the Queen visited the Downs, especially a photo which shows the Royal viewing stand that was erected for the occasion.
If you can assist please contact me via the Downs general office. I would like to borrow the photos and return them to you unharmed.