By Scott Taylor
Juan Pablo Silva is in the midst of an incredible race for leading trainer at Assiniboia Downs with five-time champion Tom Gardipy Jr. and defending champion Jerry Gourneau.
Newcomer Alex Cruz has a pretty commanding lead in the jockey standings, but Richard Mairs and defending champion Antonio Whitehall aren’t going away.
There will be a very competitive Manitoba Mile on Saturday night.
And the crowds that have been filling up all the seats at ASD are starting to get noticed by racing fans all over North America.
This past Sunday, the American-based website thoroughbredrace.horse sent out kudos on Twitter to the amazing seasons being enjoyed by Canada’s Western tracks: “Western Canada is hot! Today at Century Mile (Calgary), huge crowds. Last night at Hastings Racecourse (Vancouver), huge crowds. Last night at Assiniboia Downs, packed house. The management of these tracks are doing an OUTSTANDING job of putting out a quality product for the racing fans.”
It’s true. Crowds were great at ASD last year, but they were never as consistently stellar as they’ve been this season. Go out to our local track on any random weekend night and the betting windows will be busy and most of the available chairs will be taken.
For Downs CEO Darren Dunn, it’s been a combination of good weather, good promotional work by the staff and outstanding racing that has contributed to one of the finest thoroughbred seasons in recent memory.
“A combination of amazing weather and competitive races – fuelled by an incredibly tight leading trainer battle – has created tremendous crowds in support of racing here at the Downs this season,” Dunn said on Friday. “It is so gratifying to see, especially when I know how hard our team has worked to put on the show.
“Of course, we’ve also earned a reputation for family fun at affordable prices. Even if you don’t come out to wager on the races, there is great food, outstanding beverages and fun for the kids. ASD is simply a great Manitoba destination.”
And this weekend, it should be as good as advertised.
On Saturday night it’s the $30,000 Manitoba Mile for older horses and some of the most popular veteran stakes racers at the Downs are entered. The 2-1 morning line favourite is Oklahoma-bred Mr. N, trained by Jerry Gourneau and ridden by Shavon Belle. That six-year-old gelding will get a challenge from another six-year-old gelding, Kentucky-bred Deep Explorer (5-2), ridden by Chavion Chow and trained, again, by Jerry Gourneau. Those two favourites will get a test from popular past winners such as Alpine Luck (Jared Brown and Alex Cruz at 5-1), Media Melee (Steven Gaskin and Kayla Pizarro at 15-1), Pete Marwick (Gary Danelson and Richard Mairs at 10-1) and Plentiful (Tyrone Nelson and Murray Duncan at 7-2). It should be quite a race.
Meanwhile, the leading trainer at the Downs, Juan Pablo Silva, will send eight horses to the starting gate on Saturday night, but none in the big stakes race and none on Friday night. For Silva this weekend, it’s Saturday night or bust.
Silva now leads the trainers’ standings with 30 wins, 23 seconds, 21 thirds and a Downs-leading $290,668 in earnings in 116 starts (68 per cent of his starters finish in the money). Five-time champion Tom Gardipy Jr. is second with 29 wins, 26 seconds, 21 thirds and $269,585 in winnings in 137 starts while defending champion Gourneau is third with 24 wins, 30 seconds, 21 thirds and $273,413 in winnings in 156 starts. Steven Gaskin is next with 17 wins so with just two weeks to go until the $75,000 Manitoba Derby, the trainers’ race is a three-man battle.
Meanwhile, Cruz leads the jockey standings after the first 28 days of the 50-card meet, with 32 wins, 25 seconds, 17 thirds and $288,093 in earnings on 109 starts. He’s been in the money 64 times (61 per cent) already. Mairs is second with 25 wins, 20 seconds, 25 thirds and $269,415 in earnings on 124 mounts while Whitehall has 22 wins, 27 seconds, 26 thirds and a Downs-leading $291,878 in earnings in 139 starts. Chow is next with 21 wins while Renaldo Cumberbatch has 18 and Kayla Pizarro has 16.
The post-parade on both Friday and Saturday nights is at 7:15. First post at 7:30. It’s going to be an exciting weekend at one of the most successful tracks in Western Canada.