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Off to the Races: Assiniboia Downs Thrills on Opening Night

May 23, 2023 10:30 AM | Sports

By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)

Presented by:

Assiniboia Downs

Jorge Carreno

Champion jockey Jorge Carreno on the opening night first race winner Market King. (SALLY TAYLOR PHOTO)

Let it be noted that the winner of the first race on the first card of the first night of the 2023 Assiniboia Downs race meet was Market King, a seven-year-old Kentucky gelding whose grandfather is the legendary AP Indy.

Market King paid $5.60 to win, $2.70 to place and $2.10 to show, but much more importantly, he was ridden to victory by the defending jockey champion at ASD, Jorge Carreno.

On Monday night, in front of a crowd that would easily equal those heady days of Canada Day afternoons long before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, thousands filled the parking, the tarmac, the grandstand and sold out the buffet dinner as the Downs opened its 66th season of live racing.

And Manitobans certainly accepted the invitation to watch an evening of thoroughbred racing.

“This is a great crowd,” said the Downs’ simulcast and program director, Sheri Glendinning. “I expected a good one, but not this good. People must be reading ChrisD.ca.”

Granted, it was a perfect evening to be out at the track. A little hazy because of the Alberta wildfires, it was also warm with just a hint of a breeze. Hundreds of youngsters made full use of the giant bounce house and other children’s activities while their parents wagered with enthusiasm. In fact, wagering on both a local and international basis reached $1,097,520 for the evening.

“We could not be more pleased to start our season by welcoming such a large and enthusiastic crowd to our facility,” said Downs CEO Darren Dunn. “Beautiful weather set the stage for the evening that included a family fun night for the kids and wagering and technology upgrades for our more experienced players, resulting in a very satisfied audience.”

While former leading rider Antonio Whitehall and newcomer Damario Bynoe each rode two winners on opening night while Trinidad’s Sven Balroop, riding for trainer Marvin Buffalo won his first race at ASD in the final race of the night, Carreno, the jockey champion in 2021 and 2022, notched his first win of the new season in the lid-lifter.

Carreno first rode professionally in the United States in 2002. At first, he accompanied his dad to meets at Fairmount, Hawthorne and Arlington parks but when his father returned to Mexico after one of those meets, Jorge stayed behind, working the barns, galloping when he came of age and then riding. His first winner back in 2002 was a 30-1 longshot named Never Chance at Fairmount Park. Since then, he has raced just about everywhere.

“I wasn’t a jockey in Mexico, I started in the United States,” said Carreno, who has three daughters with his wife Maria. “I went from Mexico to Illinois with my father and I started racing at Fairmount. I’ve ridden at more than 17 tracks. All the California tracks – Santa Anita, Del Mar, Golden Gate — Emerald Downs in Seattle, Oak Lawn, Fairmount, Canterbury, Alberta, a lot of tracks.”

Carreno, 39, is a four-time champion jockey, twice at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. In 2017, he rode Conquest Mo Money at the Preakness Stakes. However, in 2019 and 2020, he battled some nagging injuries and was looking for a new challenge when ASD came calling.

“I was injured and at home and I got a call from my friend Mike Pierce who told me to come here to Winnipeg,” said Carreno, who has won 1,675 races and more than $18 million in purses. “I asked him what it was like here and he told me I should come and will get to ride some good horses.

“So, I called here and I talked to them and they told me that they would like me to come here and so I’m here. It’s been a good place to make a comeback and has been very rewarding for me.”

Racing continues tonight at ASD at 7:30 p.m. CDT.