By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
WINNIPEG — Perhaps it was the success of Escape Clause. Perhaps it was the end of Hidden Grace’s undefeated run. Perhaps it’s simply the excitement brought on by competitive races.
Whatever the reason, the major fillies and mares races at Assiniboia Downs have taken on a level prestige that was, in the past, reserved for the Manitoba Derby and the Gold Cup.
“With Escape Clause and then Hidden Grace’s nine-for-nine, people got excited,” said Sherisse Ziprick of Ziprick Thoroughbreds, the breeders of both Escape Clause and Hidden Grace and now two-year-old sensation Melisandre. “Not only were – are — they special mares, they are Manitoba-breds, locally-owned and excelling over open horses. There aren’t any similar recent stories with the older colts.”
The only Stakes race this week at Assiniboia Downs is the $18,000 Ericka’s Lass Overnight Stakes for three-year-olds-and-up over 1 1/16th miles. Even though Hidden Grace (who will race in a Manitoba-bred allowance race on Monday), with two second-place finishes this summer, is not among the entrants, nor is Jerry Gourneau’s Labhay, the 40-1 shot that beat both Hidden Grace and Miss Imperial in the $25,000 Escape Clause Stakes, three superb females are in the six-horse field.
The favourite, of course, is Miss Imperial, a Kentucky-bred four-year-old filly owned by Murray Duncan and the Estate of Garylle B. Stewart, trained by Murray Duncan and ridden by Stanley Chadee Jr. Miss Imperial has made nine starts this year at Assiniboia Downs, Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and Fair Grounds in New Orleans. She’s won six times including the Go Go Lolo Overnight Stakes, the LaVerendrye Stakes and the Canada Stakes, all at ASD. The morning line has her at even money.
The No. 2 favourite is Jerry Gourneau’s Cypress Point. Cypress Point is also a Kentucky-bred four-year-old filly owned by Henry Witt Jr., trained by Gourneau and ridden by Richard Mangalee. Cypress Point was claimed by Witt for $20,000 at Lone Star on July 27, and after another race at Lone Star on Aug. 5, she was sent to Gourneau’s barn in Winnipeg. She’s had eight races this year in Texas and Louisiana and has four wins.
If you’re itching to make some cash and don’t like to bet the chalk, take a serious look at the third favourite and current Manitoba Oaks champion, Kickalittlebooty at 5-1. Kickalittlebooty is another Kentucky-bred four-year-old filly owned by Brent and Heather Hrymak, trained by Brent Hrymak and ridden by leading rider Antonio Whitehall.
Kickalittlebooty is a flat-out money maker. She’s had five races in her career, all at ASD. Last year, she finished second and first ion two outings as a three-year-old and this year, she’s been on fire. She won the Chantilly Stakes on June 16, finished second in the Jack Hardy Stakes on July 7 and won the Manitoba Oaks on July 28. She’s had three wins in five races and never finished worse than second.
The Ericka’s Lass Overnight Stakes is named in honour of a filly/mare who was a big winner at ASD from 2003-2006. Trained by Emile Corbel and owned by Empire Stables, she won the Debutante Stakes, Chantilly Stakes, Manitoba Oaks, La Verendrye Stakes and Sun Stakes. She also won the $40,000 Mount Royal Handicap in Alberta.
On Wednesday night, the race that celebrates her career will also include More Mo for Me with red-hot Wilmer Galviz in the irons, a five-year-old mare that has won her only starts at ASD this year (6-1); Anstrum, with Kayla Pizarro up, who has been among the leaders in four stakes races this summer (25-1); and Zoey Ria with Shannon Beauregard in the saddle who has two third-place finishes in three races at ASD this summer (50-1).
Granted, the race will not include the top two finishers in the Escape Clause Stakes – Labhay and Hidden Grace – but it will still be one of the best races of the meet. As all filly and mare races have been this year.
Hidden Grace, meanwhile, will race on Monday night in a $14,400 Allowance feature against a field of eight exciting Manitoba-bred three-year-old fillies and mares including Dazzling Gold (15-1), who has won two of three stakes races she’s entered this summer.
Hidden Grace, the four-year-old filly who has nine wins and two seconds in 11 career starts hasn’t won in her two races in 2020. On Monday night, she’s a 2-5 favourite. Hidden Grace is owned by Barry Arnason, Cam Ziprick and Charles Fouillard, trained by Murray Duncan and ridden by Antonio Whitehall. She is expected to get her toughest competition from Purrsistent (6-1), a four-year-old filly owned by Dr. Betty Hughes, trained by Devon Gittens and ridden by Rafael Zenteno Jr.
On Monday, the Manitoba-bred Allowance over 7 ½ furlongs is Race 6 at about 10:05 p.m. while the Ericka’s Lass Overnight Stakes is Race 3 on Wednesday at about 8:35 p.m.
Remember, there is more than just live racing three nights a week to enjoy at the Downs. There are 60 VLTs open daily from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. and while the grandstand and tarmac are still closed to spectators, you can watch live racing from the Terrace Dining Room, the Club West Lounge and the Racebook. Reservations are required for the Terrace Dining Room, just call 204-885-3330.