By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn believes Monday Night’s 72nd running of the Manitoba Derby will be the weirdest of them all.
“It’s going to be extremely weird,” said Dunn on Friday morning.
“It will be the most unusual Manitoba Derby we’ve ever held. Our expectation every year is that 10,000-12,000 spectators will show up and enjoy the day and the big race. It’s one of our two most popular dates – Opening Day and the Derby – and the Manitoba Derby is our Super Bowl, our World Series Game 7, our Stanley Cup final.
“However, the lack of spectators will not make the race any less exciting. Yes, 10,000 spectators won’t be in attendance, but we’ve become acclimated this year. Our horsemen and our fans have become acclimated. This is the way it’s been all year. Instead of 10,000 spectators, we’ll have 400 people in the dining room and socially distancing in the lounge. It’s still going to be an outstanding race with a strong eight-horse field.”
The Manitoba Derby is a lot different this year. Although it will still be held on the August holiday Monday, it will be run around 10:35 p.m. as opposed to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The purse is just $60,000, down from $75,000, but the race will still be run over a mile and an eighth and it will still feature the best three-year-olds on the grounds and, of course, some high-calibre invaders.
The Downs is also offering a mandatory payout of its Jackpot Hi-5 pool which is now at almost $200,000. According to Dunn, it is estimated “to exceed $500,000.” Players predict the top five finishers in the last race. Wagers are only 20-cents.
As well, ASD will offer a $50,000 guarantee in the pick-4 pool in which players predict the winner of four races in a row. The Derby card starts at 7:30 p.m. and the pick-4 comprises the last four races, including Race 7, this year’s Manitoba Derby.
“The mandatory payout of the Jackpot Hi-5 on the last race of the card, Race 8 on Monday, will be the icing on the cake for players,” said Dunn. “The gate will be bursting with a full 12 horse field and with that big carryover it is setting up to be another great event.”
Let’s meet the eight starters in this year 72nd running of the Manitoba Derby. All the entries except the favourite, Something Natural and Jerry Gourneau’s horse, Gambler (both three-year-old colts) are three-year-old geldings.
1) Real Grace (Jockey: Antonio Whitehall) 9-5
Kentucky-bred Real Grace is the second choice among the oddsmakers. He won the 2020 Derby Trial on July 13 and has finished second in special weight races at Canterbury Park and Tampa Bay Downs this year. It’s a horse with local connections, from the barn of the 2012 leading trainer, Shelley Brown.
2) Rollin Sevens (Jockey: Stanley Chadee Jr.) 15-1
Trained by Murray Duncan who won the Derby in 2017 with Plentiful, Rollin Sevens is a Kentucky-bred that came from Oaklawn this year and immediately won an Allowance at ASD on June 2. He was fourth in the Golden Boy Stakes on June 22.
3) Something Natural (Jockey: Rico Walcott) 6-5
The favourite is a Kentucky-bred trained by Robertino Diodoro, a one-time Calgary hockey player who was champion trainer at Oaklawn this year with 142 wins, could win his fourth Manitoba Derby in a span of five years. His horses won in 2016 (Inside Straight), in 2018 (Sky Promise) and last year (Oil Money) and this year he’s making a bid with the pre-race favourite, a horse claimed for $20,000 at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.
4) Bring Home Stanley (Jockey: Kwame Joseph) 40-1
Alberta rider Kwame Joseph will ride the longest shot in the race for trainer Maria Stanford. Bring Home Stanley is a Kentucky-bred who finished seventh in the Derby Trial on July 13 and then finished sixth in a Maiden Special Weight at Century Mile on July 24. Back with short rest, he has the most appropriate name in the Derby.
5) Mongolian Wind (Jockey: Wilmer Galviz) 6-1
A Kentucky-bred trained by Wade Eno for California’s Mongolian Stable, Mongolian Wind won a Maiden Claimer on June 28 at Los Alamitos. This horse is making his third start on Monday night.
6) Gambler (Jockey: Rafael Zenteno Jr.) 10-1
Trained by leading trainer Jerry Gourneau who has had a monster year at the Downs, Gambler finished second in the Derby Trial and has two wins in 12 starts this year. Owned by Henry Witt Jr., well-travelled Gambler won a claiming race at Will Rogers on May 18 and a maiden claimer at Fair Grounds on March 20.
7) Robbi’s River Run (Jockey: Shannon Beauregard) 25-1
An Alberta-bred trained by C.D. Willson, Robbi’s River Run won a Maiden Special on June 30. He was fifth in the Derby Trial on July 13.
8) Mr. Unusual (Jockey: Richard Mangalee) 20-1
The second horse in the Derby that’s owned by Henry Witt Jr. and trained by Jerry Gourneau, Mr. Unusual has two seconds and a third in eight starts this year, but in his latest race was second at Ellis Park in a maiden claimer over a mile and a sixteenth. That was the night he was claimed by Henry Witt for $10,000.
“No trainer in recent memory is doing what Gourneau is doing,” said Dunn. “He not only has more than twice the number of wins of any other trainer but in the Manitoba Mile this week, his horses finished one-two-three. No one can recall that ever happening before in a stakes race at the Downs.”
On Monday night there will be a number of different ways to watch the biggest race of the year.
• Patrons are permitted in the Clubhouse, to dine in the Terrace Dining Room or Plaza area where advance reservations are required.
• Watching and wagering can be done online with a betting account at HPIbet.com or by phoning (204) 885-3330 ext. 225.
• Races can be watched on MTS racing channels 179-180 or on Assiniboia Downs’ website at ASDowns.com
• Races may be watched and wagered on at off-track betting venues in Manitoba.
So, who does Dunn like in Monday’s Derby?
“I’m Switzerland,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t cheer for anyone, but I do want our Derby Trial winner, Real Grace, to run a good race and to make a good accounting of himself.”
Was that a hint?