By Scott Taylor
Find your hats, bring your appetite and fill up your wallet. It’s Derby Weekend at Assiniboia Downs and for three days — August 2, 3 and 5 — the Peg’s little track in West Winnipeg will offer up the finest thoroughbred racing in Western Canada.
On Friday, Saturday and Monday of this year’s Civic Holiday weekend, there will be four stakes races. Friday night it’s the $30,000 Debutante Stakes for two-year-old fillies and the $30,000 Manitoba Oaks for three-year-old fillies. On Saturday, it’s the $30,000 Graduation Stakes for two-year-olds and on Monday, it’s the $75,000 Manitoba Derby.
“It is essentially a festival of racing at Assiniboia Downs this weekend,” said CEO Darren Dunn. “With no less than four stakes races, including the biggest race of the year, the Manitoba Derby, there is a reason to be here all three days. Beyond the obvious of the big race on Monday afternoon, is the chance to watch the undefeated super filly, Hidden Grace, put her unblemished record on the line against the strongest field to date on Friday night in the Manitoba Oaks.”
On Friday night, the 8-5 morning-line favourite in the Debutante is Edge of Okotoks, the invader from Century Mile in Calgary, trained by Tim Rycroft and ridden by Wilmer Galviz. Edge of Okotoks will be challenged by local two-year-old Be Amazing (5-2), trained by Murray Duncan and ridden by Tyrone Nelson and another invader, the Robertino Diodoro-trained Arizona Sun at 3-1. Arizona Sun has raced twice at Turf Paradise in Phoenix this year, winning once. She’ll be ridden by defending jockey champion Antonio Whitehall.
In the Oaks, the Downs’ three-year-old filly championship, the favourite is clearly Hidden Grace, the undefeated sister of Escape Clause. Hidden Grace (6-5) is trained by Michael Nault and ridden by Renaldo Cumberbatch and has not lost in five-lifetime races – three this year. Last year, she won the Debutante and the CTHS Sales Stakes. This year, she has won the Hazel Wright Sire Stakes, the Chantilly and the R.C. Anderson Stakes. She’s won $110,637 in her very-brief career and might even be the highlight of the biggest racing weekend of the 2019 Meet.
With Hidden Grace in the Oaks, it opens up the field for Monday’s Derby. There were 15 nominations, as reported here at chrisd.ca, but as we suggested, there will likely be eight at the starting gate on Monday.
“Our expectation for the Manitoba Derby is a field of eight,” confirmed Dunn. “We believe we will again have solid representation from top North American trainer, Robertino Diodoro. When you consider he has won this race two of the last three years, it is fair to say that the road to the winner’s circle likely goes through his barn.
“The Derby is setting up to have a solid mix of both local representation and invaders from outside of the Province. A few will stand above the rest and get heavy respect on the tote board leaving some longshots for those who want to take a leap of faith. The race looks like it will offer both strong early speed and significant closers who will have a great shot to take advantage of the long Assiniboia Downs stretch drive.”
Meanwhile, it’s also a big weekend for the jockey and trainer championship races.
Five-time champion Tom Gardipy Jr. still leads the trainers’ standings with 35 wins, 31 seconds, 23 thirds and $317,869 in earnings in 163 starts. Juan Pablo Silva is second with 33 wins, 28 seconds, 23 thirds and $329,230 in winnings in 140 starts while defending champion, Jerry Gourneau, is third with 30 wins, 34 seconds, 26 thirds and a track-high $340,788 in winnings in 174 starts. Steven Gaskin is next with 18 wins so after 33 days of racing in the 50-day meet, the battle for the trainers’ crown is clearly a three-man race.
Meanwhile, Alex Cruz leads the jockey standings with 34 wins, 29 seconds, 19 thirds and $316,735 in earnings on 130 starts. Richard Mairs is second with 29 wins, 27 seconds, 28 thirds and $314,024 in earnings on 148 mounts while defending champion Antonio Whitehall has 28 wins, 27 seconds, 32 thirds and a Downs-leading $346,686 in earnings in 160 starts. Chavion Chow is next with 24 wins while Renaldo Cumberbatch has 20 and Kayla Pizarro has 17.
The post-parade on both Friday and Saturday nights are at 7:15. First post at 7:30. On Monday, first post is 1:30 with the 71st running of the Manitoba Derby going to post around 5 p.m.