By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
WINNIPEG — From the first day of racing back in May, it seemed as if there would never be any doubt.
Wednesday night, Assiniboia Downs said goodbye to the 2022 thoroughbred racing season and with it, crowned Jorge Carreno as the jockey champion and Jerry Gourneau as the trainer champion, both for the second consecutive year. Both men dominated their professions this summer and were more than simply worthy winners.
Meanwhile, the Downs announced after the final race on Wednesday night that the 2022 meet produced the second-highest total wagering handle in the track’s history. Punters wagered $55,326,730 during Winnipeg’s 50-day meet, second only to the wagering total recorded in 2020.
The final card of the 2022 season finished with $2,448,634 in wagering. The night included the mandatory payout of the ASD Jackpot Pick 5 pool which started with a $535,091 carryover. The total pick 5 pool reached over $2 million and returned $1,434 for each $1 share.
It was a sensational summer despite numerous setbacks, buoyed by online wagering and the loyalty of the local racing community.
“To conclude this season with the positive results we achieved is a true testament to the team we have out here working for us and the will and determination of the horse people involved at all levels,” said Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn in a written statement.
“It seemed challenge followed us throughout 2022. We lost our Board Chair, Harvey Warner, unexpectedly during spring training and then saw a long winter and late wet spring force our hand to adjust the racing calendar. Add a lightning storm and a track lighting outage that caused further cancelled races that had to be made up and it was a live race meet that will not soon be forgotten.”
“We are also so appreciative of the strong fan support we received when we were finally able to open restriction free for the first time in years.”
Gourneau, a former education administrator from Belcourt, N.D., won his third straight trainer’s title and his fourth in five years. He is one of only two Indigenous trainers, along with Beardy’s and Okemasis, Saskatchewan’s Tom Gardipy, to have won the trainer’s crown at ASD.
Gourneau sent 288 thoroughbreds to post this summer and won 40 times to go with 42 seconds and 52 third-place finishes. He won $431,888, more than $100,000 more than No. 2 Jared Brown. Browns sent 125 starters to the gate and won 33 times. His horses were second 25 times and third on 16 occasions. He won $322,509, but more importantly to bettors, he had a track-high 26 per cent winning mark.
Gourneau is a veteran at the Downs and one of the finest trainers’ in ASD history. In fact, he’s been in the horse racing business for almost his entire life. In fact, even while completing his Masters’ Degree in Education, even while spending time as a school administrator and even as an administrator for a major National Science Council Grant in the United States, Gourneau has always kept his hand in the racing industry.
These days, however, there are no more distractions. Since deciding in 2009 to leave the education profession, Gourneau, 60, is a full-time trainer and for a man who has been working in the equine game for more than 40 years, it’s never been as much fun as it is right now.
Born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reserve, about 170 miles southwest of the International Peace Garden, Gourneau and his family would drive to Winnipeg to watch the horses run and then drive home on the same night – three hours both ways.
“My dad, Larry Gourneau Sr., got together with my older brothers, Dave and Bill, and they bought one horse,” Gourneau explained. “He was named Sima’s Award and we bought it from Assiniboia Downs in 1972 or ’73. My dad bought it to run on the bush tracks in Pheasanton, Towner and Rugby, N.D. Belcourt didn’t even have a track back then.
“The first good horse we ever owned was L.D. Ribot. My dad and my brother Dave purchased that horse here at the Downs for $1,100. He was a stone-cold winner. He’d win $15,000-$20,000 every year. We had him ‘till he was 11-years-old. When they bought that horse, I was 13 or 14 and I was working in the barn. Then, at 16, I started at Assiniboia Downs and I did everything.”
After graduating from university, he went on to become a schoolteacher and later, a school administrator. Meanwhile he worked summers in the racing game. In 2009, he decided to go into the thoroughbred industry on a full-time basis and he has been a remarkable success. Now, one of the greatest aboriginal trainers in racing history he has become a four-time champion in Winnipeg.
Carreno, a 39-year-old veteran jock who hails from Cocula, Guerrero, Mexico dominated the racing season to take his second straight championship in a post-to-wire run. Called, “the best jockey on the grounds, bar none,” by trainer Jared Brown, Carreno and Brown teamed up with the brilliant mare Spun Line for some of the most memorable victories of the season, including three stakes wins – the $35,000 Canada Day, the $25,000 Portales Overnight and the $40,00 Matron.
In 201 starts, Carreno had 65 wins, 33 seconds and 29 third-place finishes, a 32 per cent win percentage and 63 per-cent in-the-money tally. Carreno won $624,642 for his owners. Renaldo Cumberbatch was second with 48 wins and $518,641 in earnings while Chavion Chow was third with 39 wins and $404,940 in winnings. This was probably the best jockey colony at the Downs in a decade.
“The secret, No. 1, is getting the right horses,” said Carreno, who once rode a horse in the Preakness Stakes. “The main thing when it comes to winning, is what you have under you. You have to have the right horses to have a chance.
“Sure, you have to be lucky to get a nice trip and hope that your horse is at his best that day. Experience is important and I do a lot of homework. I watch the video, I know how the horses run and especially, I study the riders. I know who is going to be on the horses that are tough to beat and I study how they ride.”
In 2021, his first year as champion, Carreno Carreno rode 267 horses and won 80 races to beat No. 2, Stanley Chadee Jr. by 31 wins.
Assiniboia Downs is open year-round for daily simulcast wagering on the top tracks from around the world, including the Breeders’ Cup on November 4th & 5th. 140 VLTs are available for play each day from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. with a Sirloin Steak Special on Friday nights and our renowned Prime Rib on Saturday nights. Details at ASDowns.com.
The schedule for the 2023 live thoroughbred season is confirmed and opening day will be Monday, May 22 at 7:30 p.m.