By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
Huge money was wagered and won, Christmas Dance and Deep Explorer won the two big stakes races and Antonio Whitehall extended his lead in the jockey standings.
It was another impressive week during this strange racing season at Assiniboia Downs.
While the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has certainly hurt attendance and the bottom line of the food and beverage department at the Downs, it hasn’t (on the surface, at least) negatively affected the racing nor the wagering pool.
This past Monday night, bettors from around the world, wagered $4,106,601 on the races simulcast from ASD as eager punters tried to get a piece of a record payout of $3,132,280 on the Jackpot Pick 5 Pool. All the money had to be paid out and because there were so many winners, a $2 wager on the Pick 5 paid a whopping $1,800.
In the first big race of the week on Tuesday night, the $25,000 Jack Hardy Stakes for three-year-old fillies, the shocking winner of a four-horse affair was Christmas Dance. Owned by Scott Anderson and Shelley Brown, trained by Shelley Brown and ridden to victory by Rafael Zenteno Jr., Christmas Dance paid $16.40 to win and $4.50 to show, beating the favourite Kickalittlebooty, ridden by Whitehall, by a neck at the wire. Kickalittlebooty paid $2.10 to place.
In the second stakes event on Wednesday, Whitehall rode the favourite, and defending champion, Deep Explorer to victory in the $25,000 R.J. Speers Stakes for three-year-olds and up. Owned by Henry S. Witt Jr. and trained by leading trainer Jerry Gourneau, Deep Explorer ran with the leaders right from the gate and took over on the final turn to beat Kayla Pizarro and Man of Blues by a half a length. Deep Explorer is a seven-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding that won a $25,000 sponsored stakes race on June 17, and last year, not only won the R.J. Speers Stakes, but also the Manitoba Mile and the Gold Cup.
However, despite the fact he didn’t sweep the stakes races this past week, no jockey could possibly have had a better week than Whitehall. The 26-year-old Barbadian who won the ASD jockey title in 2018, won eight times – six times aboard horses trained by Gourneau – to blow the jockey race wide open.
Whitehall went into the week with 27 wins, 19 seconds and 12 third-place finishes in 102 starts. He’d won a whopping $237,445, nearly $70,000 more than No. 2 Rafael Zenteno Jr., through the first six weeks of racing.
However, he came out of the week with an even bigger advantage — 35 wins, 22 seconds and 15 third place finishes in 120 starts. He not only won eight of 18 races, but finished in the money 14 times. He has now earned $306,195 for his owners.
Rafael Zenteno Jr. won five times last week and remains in second place with 24 wins, 19 seconds, and 10 thirds in 106 starts and $212,434 in winnings. Stanley Chadee Jr. is in third place with 14 wins, 17 seconds and 14 thirds in 102 starts and $165,543 in winnings.
Meanwhile, the team of owner Henry Witt Jr., trainer Jerry Gourneau and jockey Antonio Whitehall just finished a monster first seven weeks at the track. In fact, last week alone, Witt-owned/Gourneau-trained/Whitehall-ridden horses won five times (Witt’s Short Stop, Witt’s Data Link, Button Mushroom, Witt’s Hurricane and Deep Explorer). Gourneau and Whitehall won a sixth time on Commander McDivitt, a horse owned by Gourneau.
With six victories in total this past week, Gourneau is now running away with the trainer’s title. The veteran trainer from Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reserve in Belcourt, North Dakota leads the way with 27 wins, 24 seconds, 12 thirds and $243,945 in earnings in 107 starts. Defending champion Tom Gardipy Jr. from Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, is second with 13 wins, 21 seconds, 18 thirds and $141,395 in winnings in 115 starts and former champion trainer (2012) Shelley Brown, originally from Regina, is third with 10 wins, 13 seconds, nine thirds and $137,712 in winnings.
It certainly is a difficult situation for the defending trainers’ champion Gardipy Jr. This past week, he won four times, finished second three times and finished third three times and still came out of the three days of racing trailing Gourneau by 14 wins.
He’ll have another three chances to get back into the hunt next week. Live racing resumes on Monday at 7:30 p.m.