By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
WINNIPEG — Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn made it clear last week saying that when the track opened for live racing this season: “We must put our best foot forward.”
Based on what we watched on Tuesday night – with two great stakes races and at least seven entries in every race — it was mission accomplished.
After all, it was so good on Tuesday that ASD set the record for the largest Opening Day betting handle in track history, breaking the 2020 record of $1.067 million by taking in $1.151 million in wagers worldwide.
“It validated our decision to push the meet back by eight days,” Dunn said. “And against all the challenges put to us by weather right up until the first race. I have to tell you, I watched the weather for 14 hours and Tuesday and I don’t think anyone thought the sun would come out and shine on the track, but at about 5 or 6, it was bright and sunny and I knew we were in for a great night.
“Thanks to the hard work of our incredible maintenance team, the track could not have been in better shape despite all the rain. We are certainly headed in the right direction.”
Thanks to a full, and talented, jockey colony and with seven strong fields, the first night of racing at Winnipeg’s little track on the prairie was just about perfect.
The opener also produced some interesting thoroughbreds to watch this season.
Owner Sherisse Ziprick’s three-year-old filly Miss Giving, making her first career start, won the season’s opening race, the $14,000 Don Gray Memorial. With veteran jock Renaldo Cumberbatch aboard and trained by Devon Gittens, Miss Giving took the lead quickly and dominated the field in a five-furlong jaunt that sent quite a message to the track’s three-year-old distaff group.
“It was pretty emotional for me,” Sherisse said. “I had to step away to get myself together. I lost her mum last year and she was my heart horse. It was really tough to lose her, but to see her baby run so well was just so emotional for me.
“It was her first start, too. We had her here last year for a while, but she’s a really big filly. She was more than 16.2 and she’s probably bigger than that now. Last year, she just grew and grew and she had trouble keeping weight on, so we took her back to the farm and just let her grow up. We brought her back this spring and Devon just did a wonderful job with her.”
Miss Giving paid $22.10, $9.40 and $5.70.
“What an effort by that horse in its first start,” said Dunn. “It was another tribute to the incredibly strong product that comes out of the farm of Can and Sherisse Ziprick every year. They are definitely the cream of the crop when it comes to breeders in this province.”
Amazingly, things didn’t slow down after the opening race. In Race 2, the first Stakes race of the season — the $21,400 Electric Fever Overnight Stakes — last year’s champion trainer Jerry Gourneau picked up where he left off.
Gourneau’s Kim’s Texas Bling, owned by Henry Witt Jr. and ridden by Chavion Chow started at the back of the pack and then made a monster move inside off the final turn to blow away the field. The favourite paid $4.00, $2.50 and $2.10.
In the seventh and final race of the night, the $22,300 Nifty Overnight Stakes, the most intriguing horse entered on opening night gave bettors quite a show.
Market King, a gelding that was claimed by trainer Jared Brown for $10,000 at Turf Paradise on March 23, and then shipped to Winnipeg, had been training under the radar at ASD. Heading into Tuesday’s seventh race, it was obvious that only a few bettors knew that this six-year-old horse – a grinder that had been heretofore rather unsuccessful — was not only royally bred but had had actually run in the Preakness Stakes in 2019.
Granted, he finished 12th in the Preakness after a solid third-place finish in the 2019 Garde II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, but this was still a $550,000 yearling by Into Mischief and out of an A.P. Indy mare named Divine Presence.
On Tuesday night, Market King proved to be a very smart claim for Winnipeg. The 6-1 fourth favourite (in a seven-horse race), with veteran Jorge Carreno aboard, exploded from the gate, took an easy early lead and then bravely fought off Shelly Brown’s 2020 Canadian Derby champion Real Grace, to win by a neck.
Market King’s first win at ASD and fifth career win, paid $14.40, $5.70 and $4.50, but also got owners Ira J. Donald and Kane Kachur their investment back in his first race under new ownership.
“This is a horse that not only ran in the Preakness but also finished in the money in the Rebel Stakes, another huge Stakes race at Oaklawn,” said Brown who also won the sixth race with Carreno and the favourite Fox Appeal. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a horse at Assiniboia Downs that has run in the Preakness. It’s also the first horse that I’ve ever owned that was once in Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas’ barn (Lukas was the trainer of Market King at the Preakness in 2019). He’s a pretty cool horse.”
What’s really interesting is Market King ran in the Preakness in 2019 while Carreno, his jockey on Tuesday night, rode in the Preakness in 2017. It is the first time in ASD history that both horse and rider have previously completed a Triple Crown race.
“It was definitely a good night for us,” said Brown, who currently has 18 thoroughbreds in his stable at ASD and will run five tonight in the second day of the 50-date ASD meet. “I spent the winter at Turf Paradise (Phoenix) and it was a really tough meet. I think I had six or maybe seven horses claimed this winter. But, I saw Market King and thought he’d be a pretty nice horse to bring back to Winnipeg. So far …”
Meanwhile, Dun n was thrilled with the performances of the jockeys on Tuesday night.
“We made a commitment to having a top tier jockey colony at the track this year and we saw just that on Opening Night,” Dunn said. “Jorge Carreno, our 2021 champion, won two races; former champion Chavion Chow won two races; and former champion Prayven Badrie won his first race of the season.
“It was a great opening night all around. Our dining room was full, the races were outstanding, all with full fields, we had a record-setting handle and the jockey colony proved how good it is. We have definitely put our best foot forward.”