By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
WINNIPEG — Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn has always been somewhat of an optimistic guy. After 40 years at the track, he’s experienced all the highs and suffered through all the lows and there really isn’t much left to surprise.
That’s why he’s probably a little understated when it comes to the roaring start our local track has enjoyed for this year’s thoroughbred racing meet.
One-quarter of the way through the 2022 season and things have never been better along Winnipeg’s West Perimeter Hwy.
Socially, if not medically, COVID is out of most people’s lives. With vaccines, even those of us who test positive don’t get terribly sick (Dunn himself recovered two weeks ago and doesn’t seem the worse for wear) so people are flocking to venues all over the province.
Here in Winnipeg, the Downs is a favourite destination and when you mix solid crowds with a gigantic growth in online betting it’s no surprise that the handle is skyrocketing. Especially when one considers that the Downs operates Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights while all the major tracks around the world are taking those nights off.
It is all part of a formula that has made the Downs the little track that could.
“We just passed the 25 per cent mark, 13 days out of our 50-day meet, and from my standpoint, I am extremely pleased with how the race meet has gone so far — on a lot of levels,” said Dunn. “Our jockey colony is hyper-competitive and even though last year’s champ, Jorge Carreno, has the lead, he’d be the first to tell you that lead isn’t safe and that’s good for everybody.”
Carreno, who spent the winter racing at Sunland Park in New Mexico, has 16 wins, six seconds and eight third-place finishes in 50 mounts and has a remarkable 32 per cent winning percentage. Chavion Chow is next with 11 wins in 60 starts and Renaldo Cumberbatch is third with 10 wins in 52 starts. Neville Stephenson and Prayven Badrie each have nine wins while Stanley Chadee Jr. has eight. It is definitely a competitive jockey colony.
And those competitive jocks combined with the largest average fields per race since COVID started in 2020, have given the track a wagering boost.
“Wagering to this point, on a per race basis is up 57.24 per cent from last year, so we’ve had tremendous results through the windows,” Dunn said. “Our average field size is 7.01 horses per race versus 6.66 at this time last year so our desire to increase field size is, materially, coming true and has me quite pleased and is a factor in our increased wagering. Getting our product out to the world has helped, as well as we’re continuing to develop the ASD Live brand.
“We also lowered the take-out (the household), literally across the board and that has absolutely spurred additional wagering. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback about that and, as far as things going on out on the racetrack is concerned, as we get closer to the Manitoba Derby, we’re coming off a 2021 Derby where we had a 12-horse field and a record Manitoba Derby wagering day of $2,542,309. Which is the all-time Derby wagering record.
“We have big shoes to fill in that regard but we’re optimistic heading in. We have some large carryover wagers which may make it that far to help spur wagering that day and I would say – and you know I’m Switzerland, I’m neutral when it relates to our horses – but it’s hard not to notice Brody’s Streak for trainer Tom Gardipy.”
Claimed at Oaklawn Park for $25,000 Brody’s Streak continues to impress Gardipy and owner Larry Henry. Last Monda, he won the 46th running of the $35,000 Golden Boy Stakes, thanks to an almost perfect ride by jockey Ronald Ali. In fact, in the six-furlong Golden Boy Stakes sprint, he won going away by an impressive 4 ½ lengths.
He’ll now stretch out to a mile in the $35,000 Derby Trial next Monday, July 11. A grey, almost white gelding by Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner Brody’s Cause is out of Part of the Charm, who is a full sister to Pocahontas Stakes (G2) winner Dancinginherdreams, by Tapit. His pedigree suggests he’s much better than a $25,000 claimer.
“Brody’s Streak has been absolutely lights-out so far this season – two starts, two wins in demonstrative style,” said Dunn. “He certainly looks like a handful and locally, the one to beat for the Derby. Nice to see Tom with such a wonderful horse. Tom definitely has a Derby contender this year and one with an incredible amount of talent.
“He definitely has an ‘It’ horse for the Derby.”