By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
If it’s been a while since you last attended an event at Assiniboia Downs, you might not recognize the place the next time you walk through the front door.
Big changes are already underway with the start of the 2023 live racing season just three weeks away.
Now, Downs CEO Darren Dunn would be pleasantly surprised if all the work is completed by opening day on Monday, May 22, but regardless, it’s been a long time since an update was undertaken on the first floor of the grandstand.
“Our grandstand, built in 1958, is getting the first aesthetic refresh of the lobby in over two decades,” said Dunn.
“The refresh will create a more open space and smoother flow for patrons in and out, with the removal of a block of turnstiles that were no longer being used,” Dunn continued. “The old tile flooring will be replaced with a new stylish rubberized flooring that is long-lasting and meant for heavy traffic. The paint colour scheme has also been reimagined for a new look and feel. The guest services counter will allow for a more interactive and accessible exchange with customers and the history area will also get a modernized makeover.
“We don’t expect it to be ready and in place for opening day, but we are excited about the new look.”
It won’t be long before horses go to the post for Day 1. The racing season opens on Monday, May 22 and will run every Monday and Tuesday night and on 14 selected Wednesday nights until Sept. 19.
“The horse supply is coming in strong once again with expectations of an inventory that should at least modestly exceed the totals from last year, which produced an average field size of close to seven horses per race,” Dunn explained. “Purses are once again up for the horse people over 2022 creating a tremendous sense of optimism in the barn area. That includes $50,000 purses for all open stakes’ races and a record $125,000 for the 75th running of the Manitoba Derby.”
The Derby will go to post on Terry Fox Day, Monday evening, Aug. 7. Not only is the purse of $125,000, the most in history, but it’s also the first time since 2008 that it’s been a six-figure race and is more than twice the amount that was offered during the 2020 COVID Derby ($60,000).
On top of that, the Downs and its counterparts in the West will soon announce a Western Canadian Triple Crown Series in conjunction with the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia that will link the Manitoba Derby, Canadian Derby and B.C. Derby together while offering a $100,000 bonus for any horse who sweeps all three legs.
“We are also returning to the successful Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday night live race schedule that produced an average wagering total of approx. $1.2M each day while also not having to compete with the schedule of the Blue Bombers and the many Manitoba festivals throughout our season,” Dunn said. “And, of course, we don’t have to compete with ‘lake life’ which is a ritual in this province when the snow melts. So, enjoy your weekends and then ‘Do The Downs’ on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.”