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Record Handles at the Downs Lead to Permanent Schedule Changes

September 17, 2020 6:58 AM | Sports

By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)

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Darren Dunn

Darren Dunn, CEO of Assiniboia Downs. (RUSTY BARTON PHOTO)

WINNIPEG — Assiniboia Downs set record after record for wagering handles this summer and the people who run the local thoroughbred track have decided to go with the flow.

Next season, even if there is no longer a pandemic and spectators can watch the races in person at the track, Assiniboia Downs will provide live thoroughbred racing on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

When asked about the future dates, Downs CEO Darren Dunn was blunt and to the point: “At this point in time, it is our intention to pursue a similar weekly schedule in 2021 and I do not believe we will change from that strategy.”

By racing on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights instead of on the weekends, the Downs has cut itself a solid niche in the international world of thoroughbred racing. There are so few tracks that race on those nights, that the Downs has drawn massive handles, much of the money coming from Australia, Europe and the Middle East. Weekends are overloaded with the greatest tracks in the world – Churchill Downs, Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, Gulfstream Park and Pimlico Race Course. Winnipeg’s tiny track were consumed by the big American tracks on Friday and Saturday, but on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, they found a financial windfall.

Now, to be precise, the Downs doesn’t actually receive all of that money. Not even close. “It’s a one-figure percentage of that,” said Dunn earlier this summer.


However, it’s enough to abandon a weekend schedule for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. After all, the 2020 50-day race meet concluded with total wagering of $63,264,000, dwarfing last year’s $12,467,855 for the same number of days. The 2020 average was $1.265 million per night. A new season wagering record was also set. The previous record was set in 1981 when $53,394,913 was wagered during a 135-day race meet.

And Dunn knew he had a terrific situation right from the outset. After the first week of the season, the Downs handle was through the roof. By holding its cards on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the Downs international handle in Week 1 was a record-setting $4.4 million. On June 3, the Downs announced a record handle of $1,853,429 for just one night of racing, but they blew that out of the water on Monday, July 3, with a huge Pick 5 Jackpot, the Downs set an all-time wagering record of $4,106,601. Then, on Tuesday night, the final night of racing, there was $3,523,772 wagered on races from Assiniboia Downs.

Granted, the large Pick 5 Pool of more than $1.5 million and the Jackpot Hi 5 pool of more than $500,000 certainly attracted a worldwide betting audience on the internet.

The carryover of $202,319 for the Jackpot Pick 5 and the $81,338 for the Jackpot Hi5 were paid out to the winners,” said Dunn. “The results were astonishing with the Pick 5 pool adding $1.3 million dollars and the Jackpot Hi 5 adding $423,648 in wagering.

“The combination of the two pools far exceeded our expectations. We were fortunate to have a strong program with full fields which set the stage for some big wagering.”

A 20-cent winning Pick 5 ticket paid $1,563.75. A 20-cent winning Hi 5 ticket paid $1,285.50.

“We couldn’t be more proud of how everyone banded together to make this year such a success,” Dunn said, in a written statement on Tuesday. “We are so thankful for everyone’s support including all of our partners and horseplayers.”