By Scott Taylor
History can now record that the first winner of the 2020 Assiniboia Downs thoroughbred meet was Manitoba-bred Bear Me a Moment.
The first stakes winner was Miss Imperial.
And 44-year-old Alberta-based/Venezuelan jockey Rigo Sarmiento had an impressive first race while jockey Rafael Zenteno Jr. and trainer Ryan Desjarlais won both ends of the late Daily Double.
The opening night of racing at Assiniboia Downs – in front of no fans and very few Downs employees – was, by all indications, a success. The races were competitive and, as usual, the horses didn’t run according to form on the first day of the meet. Granted, Miss Imperial went off as a 3-5 favourite in the $16,000 Go Go Lolo Overnight Stakes and was an easy winner, but a number of favourites didn’t even finish in the money.
However, by moving from seven races to six races on the card, the fields were large – six to 10 horses in every race – and competitive, just as Downs CEO Darren Dunn had promised.
“We wagered $1,067,000 on only six races,” said Dunn, who was proud of the fact the Downs was the first track to open in Canada after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “That is a major accomplishment and a tremendous start to the season.”
Bear Me A Moment ($8.40), bred by Cam Ziprick at Ziprick Thoroughbreds in Russell, MB, owned by Barry Arnason, trained by Michael Nault and ridden by Rigo Sarmiento won the first race of the new season while Miss Imperial ($3.30), a Kentucky-bred owned by Murray Duncan and the Estate of Garylle B. Stewart, trained by Murray Duncan and ridden by Stanley Chadee Jr. won the first Overnight Stakes of the meet.
Sarmiento, who came into the evening with 1,704 career wins and $3,580,390 in career earnings, also came in second in Race 3 aboard Broadway Bonnie. However, he was shut out after that as the Zentenos, Edgar and Rafael Jr., in from Alberta, won the final three races on the card. Apprentice rider Edgar won the fourth race aboard Trabacious ($4.60) to collect his second-lifetime win and then Rafael Jr. won on a couple of longshots. In Race 5 he was aboard Man of Blues ($19.00) and in Race 6 he rode Peeper ($26.40).
“It was a total team effort to get this meet off the ground tonight against such a challenging backdrop,” Dunn said. “But we did it and we did it safely. I could not be more pleased or more proud.”