By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
WINNIPEG — The California invader Mongolian Wind has won the 72nd running of the $60,000 Manitoba Derby.
Late Monday night at Assiniboia Downs, Mongolian Wind took the lead at the top of the stretch and outdueled Mr. Unusual to the wire to win by a nose in a photo finish. The favourite, Something Natural was third while Gambler was fourth.
On a holiday Monday night that was called “extremely weird” by Downs CEO Darren Dunn, Mongolian Wind’s jockey Wilmer Galviz, hung around with the leaders down the backstretch in the gruelling one mile and one-eighth race and then, on the final turn, assumed the lead. From that point, it was a two-horse race and Mongolian Wind had just a little more than Henry Witt Jr.’s Mr. Unusual.
Mongolian Wind is a three-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding owned by California’s Mongolian Stable and trained by Wade Eno. Mongolian Wind last raced on June 28 and won a Maiden Claimer at Los Alamitos. This horse made its third career start on Monday night, went off at 7-1 and paid $16.00 to win, $8.60 to place and $4.70 to show.
The very game second-place finisher was Mr. Unusual. Owned by Henry Witt Jr. and trained by Jerry Gourneau, Mr. Unusual had two seconds and a third in eight starts heading into Monday night’s Derby. However, in his most recent outing, he 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. Mr. Unusual went off at 15-1 and paid $12.90 to place and $4.70 to show.
The favourite, Something Natural was third. Something Natural is a Kentucky-bred trained by Robertino Diodoro, a one-time Calgary hockey player who was a champion trainer at Oaklawn this year with 142 wins. Diodoro was chasing his fourth Manitoba Derby win in a span of five years. His horses won in 2016 (Inside Straight), in 2018 (Sky Promise) and last year (Oil Money). Something Natural is a horse that Diodoro claimed for $20,000 at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. He paid $2.40 to show.
In fourth place was another Witt-Gourneau entry, Gambler. Gambler finished second in the Derby Trial and had two wins in 12 starts this year alone heading into the Derby. 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.
It’s a bit too bad that Gourneau didn’t pull off the huge upset with Mr. Unusual. It would have put an exclamation point on his monster year.
“No trainer in recent memory is doing what Gourneau is doing,” said Dunn earlier this week. “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.”
A $2 wager on the 5-8-3 Triactor paid $383.75. A $1 Superfecta ticket with 5-8-3-6 paid $1,056.25. Even a $2 ticket on the 5-8 Quinella paid $111.10. A $1 Exactor was worth $91.60.
There are two more big Stakes races this week at ASD. On Tuesday night in Race 4 (at about 9:05 p.m.), it’s the Debutante Stakes, a five-furlong sprint for two-year-old fillies featuring the baby sister of Hidden Grace, Melisandre. Melisandre won her first start on July 22 and is the 2-1 morning line favourite on Tuesday night. Owned by True North Thoroughbreds and trained by Michael Nault, she’s ridden by Stanley Chadee Jr.
Then, on Wednesday night, Race 3 (at about 8:35 p.m.) is the Graduation Stakes, another five-furlong sprint for two-year-old fillies featuring 2-1 favourite Tormentica. Tormentica is owned by Barry Arnason, True North and Charles Fouillard, she’s trained by Michael Nault and ridden by leading jockey Antonio Whitehall. She has a second-place finish in her only race –against the winner Melisandre – on July 22.
Both of these promising two-year-old fillies were bred in Russell, Man., by Cam Ziprick at Ziprick Thoroughbreds and Charles Fouillard.