By Scott Taylor
With six days of live racing to go, jockeys Richard Mairs and Antonio Whitehall and trainers Tom Gardipy Jr. and Juan Pablo Silva are locked in the best races in recent memory at Assiniboia Downs.
After two tremendous nights of racing this weekend, the jockey battle will come down to the two best on the grounds this season while the trainers’ competition is now a two-man race between a five-time champion and a confident yet relative newcomer to the Downs who vowed last year that he would win a trainers’ title.
Let’s start, however, with the big race of the weekend. On Saturday night, in the $30,000 CTHS Sales Stakes for two-year-olds, the babies at the Downs, Esther’s Quest let it be known that he could be the local horse to beat in next year’s Manitoba Derby.
The Dark Brown gelding trained by Steven Gaskin and ridden by Whitehall won his first race in only his third start, going to post as a 7-2 underdog, and beat Ultimate Candy, with Mairs in the irons, by four lengths. Esther’s Quest paid $6.70 to win and now has a first and second in his three starts as a two-year-old.
With his win in the CTHS Sales Stakes, Whitehall notched three victories on the weekend and pulled to within two wins of leader Mairs, who won once. Alex Cruz, who has battled back quickly from a nasty collarbone injury, won three times but obviously, his time away from the track had a negative effect on his chances to win the jockey title. Cruz is now six wins behind with six days to race.
Mairs, now has 43 wins, 39 seconds, 33 thirds and $442,398 in earnings on 210 starts. Whitehall, the defending champion, is next with 41 wins, 37 seconds, 39 thirds and a Downs-leading $540,637 in earnings in 218 starts while Cruz, who has finished in the money in 65 per cent of his races this season, is third with 37 wins, 33 seconds, 19 thirds and $345,897 in earnings on 146 mounts. Renaldo Cumberbatch is next with 32 wins while Chavion Chow has 29 and Kayla Pizarro has 24. Pizarro also had three wins over the weekend.
On the trainers’ side of the ledger, the race is all about Gardipy Jr., from the family racing business at Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation in Saskatchewan, and Silva, who is also a big part of his family’s thoroughbred business is a trainer who and came to Winnipeg from the southwest United States.
On the weekend, the Gardipy Jr. – Silva matchup was nothing short of tremendous.
On Friday night, Silva won Race 4 with Point Guard ridden by Cruz. Gardipy Jr. won Race 5 with Rascal Candy ridden by Kayla Pizarro and then Gardipy Jr. won Race 7 with War Hero ridden by Stanley Chadee Jr.
On Saturday night, Gardipy Jr. won Race 1 with Dreamcastle and Pizarro in the irons to take a four-win lead, but then Silva got hot. He won Race 2 with Willy Be Smart and Mairs; won Race 4 with Duluth and Ronald Ali and won Race 5 with Circus Ride and Cruz to cut the advantage to 41-40.
With six days of racing remaining, Gardipy Jr. leads the trainers’ standings with 41 wins, 42 seconds, 29 thirds and $385,260 in earnings in 210 starts. Silva, who is in his second season at ASD, is second with 40 wins, 36 seconds, 29 thirds and $405,858 in winnings in 191 starts while defending champion Jerry Gourneau is third with 34 wins, 44 seconds, 34 thirds and a Downs-leading $418,513 in winnings in 224 starts. Steven Gaskin is next with 21 wins and the 60-year veteran Gary Danelson has 19.
It’s going to be a great finish. There are three days of racing this coming weekend: Friday and Saturday night with first post parade at 7:15 each night and then Holiday Monday, Sept. 2, at 1:15 in the afternoon.