By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
WINNIPEG — Last week, Deep Explorer continued his successful summer season at Assiniboia Downs and this week, two talented sisters – Hidden Grace and Melisandre – will have a chance to make their mark once again.
There are three weeks – or 11 days — of racing remaining in this year’s 50-day meet at ASD and it has already been an incredibly weird and equally wonderful season of live thoroughbred racing. Granted, it’s been run with only a handful of spectators on some nights and yet, thanks to the magic of simulcasting, more than $1 million is wagered on Winnipeg races every night.
As we approach the end of this summer season almost every day remaining will feature a Stakes race and, this year, the three biggest races left on the schedule – the Matron, the Winnipeg Futurity and the Gold Cup – will end the meet.
The bounty of Stakes races will begin this week with fan favourite Hidden Grace almost running by herself.
The first Stakes on Monday night week is the $30,000 Distaff Stakes for older fillies and mares. Hidden Grace is a 1-9 morning-line favourite in a four-horse field that shouldn’t give her much trouble.
In her last outing, Hidden Grace won a $14,400 Allowance race for Manitoba-bred fillies and made it quite clear that after two second-place finishes in her only other races this summer, she was back.
After a terrible, stumbling start, jockey Antonio Whitehall righted her and it was as if nothing had happened. She sat comfortably in second behind second-favourite Purrsistent, then took a short lead on the final turn and drew away, cruising to six-length win over 7 ½ furlongs.
Hidden Grace, the four-year-old filly who now has 10 wins and two seconds in 12 career starts, went off as a 1-5 favourite and paid $2.30, $2.10 and $2.10. Purrsistent, who will be Hidden Grace’s toughest opponent on Monday night, was second and paid $2.60 to place and $2.40 to show.
Hidden Grace is owned by Barry Arnason, Cam Ziprick and Charles Fouillard, trained by Murray Duncan and ridden by Antonio Whitehall. Purrsistent is also a four-year-old filly, but owned by Dr. Betty Hughes, trained by Devon Gittens and ridden by Rafael Zenteno Jr.
In Race 3 on Tuesday night, it’s the $35,000 CTHS Sales Stakes for two-year-old Manitoba-breds. The baby sister to Hidden Grace, undefeated Melisandre, is the 3-5 morning-line favourite in a seven-horse field that includes three geldings and three more fillies.
Melisandre was bred in Russell, Man., by Cam Ziprick at Ziprick Thoroughbreds and Charles Fouillard. She is owned by Barry Arnason, True North Thoroughbreds and Charles Fouillard; trained by Michael Nault, and ridden by Stanley Chadee Jr. She won a Maiden Special Weight on July 22 and then cruised to victory in the 31st running of the Debutante Stakes on Aug. 4. It would be a major shock if she lost on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday night, it’s the $30,000 Osiris Stakes for two-year-olds and the favourite in a wide-open field at 5-2 is Kentucky-bred Bells and Whistles, trained by Craig Smith and ridden by leading jockey Antonio Whitehall.
Meanwhile, last week, Deep Explorer, a seven-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding owned by Henry Witt Jr., trained by Jerry Gourneau and ridden by Richard Mangalee won the $18,000 Uene Overnight Stakes in what turned out to be a four-horse race. Deep Explorer led from gate to post, winning by nearly six lengths. The favourite paid $5.90 to win and $2.70 to place in a race in which three of the four horses that went to the gate were trained by Gourneau – Deep Explorer, Mas Mischief (third) and Gold Buyer (fourth).
In 12 starts this year, Deep Explorer now has four wins, two seconds and three third-place finishes. In four races at Assiniboia Downs, Deep Explorer won a Stakes race on June 17, then won the R.J. Speers Stakes on July 8, finished second in the Manitoba Mile on July 29 and won the Uene Overnight Stakes on Aug. 18. He’s won $53,337 this year and $259,486 in his six-year career spanning a dozen different tracks.
Deep Explorer started at Keeneland in October of 2015, moved on to Churchill Downs, and has raced at Fair Grounds, Indiana Grand, Ellis Park, Lone Star, Remington Park, Kentucky Downs, Sam Houston, Fonner, Will Rogers and, of course, at Assiniboia Downs. At ASD, he’s won the R.J. Speers Stakes twice, finished first and second in the Manitoba Mile and last year, finished the season with a victory in the Gold Cup.
His trainer, Jerry Gourneau, who won five times last week, has essentially claimed the trophy as the 2020 champion trainer at ASD. This year, the veteran trainer from Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reserve in Belcourt, North Dakota has 57 wins, 42 seconds, 32 thirds and $536,611 in earnings in 227 starts. He leads No. 2, defending champion Tom Gardipy Jr., from Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation in Duck Lake, Sask., by 27 victories.
Gardipy Jr. has 30 wins, 30 seconds, 31 thirds and $269,823 in winnings in 198 starts and former champion trainer (2012) Shelley Brown is third with 17 wins, 24 seconds, 27 thirds and $246,538 in winnings in 134 starts.
Gourneau is within sight of the single-season win record of 78 victories at Assiniboia Downs, set by elite trainer Tom Dodds during the 117-day meet in 1990. Gourneau, however, could break that record at a meet with only 50 race days.
Meanwhile, in the jockey race, Antonio Whitehall has a lock on that title.
With Week 14 of the 17-week meet starting Monday night at 7:30, Whitehall now leads No. 2 Rafael Zenteno Jr. by 23 first-place finishes. Whitehall, who won the 2018 ASD jockey title with just 41 wins, has 60 victories, 41 seconds and 42 third-place finishes in a track-leading 230 starts. He has now earned $539,931 for his owners – almost $200,000 more than his nearest rival. Whitehall has finished in the money an amazing 61 per cent of the time this season.
Zenteno Jr. remains in second place with 37 wins, 26 seconds, and 19 thirds in 174 starts and has $343,026 in winnings while Stanley Chadee Jr. is in third place with 31 wins, 38 seconds and 29 thirds in 202 starts and has $354,795 in winnings. Kayla Pizarro is fourth with 24 wins in 163 starts.
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.
Live racing is back tonight at 7:30 p.m.