By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn calls The Gold Cup: “My favourite race of the season.”
And after 10 years or so of hearing him make that statement, you can believe him.
“What a race!” said Dunn with a wide smile on Monday. “It’s been my favourite race of the year for decades. It features the best on the grounds, going the longest distance of the meet, a mile and an eighth, matched only by the distance of the Manitoba Derby and the Sifton Stakes for Manitoba breds. It’s a rare distance that we run and it’s at the end of the year, so it’s also a bit of a survivor’s series experience for those who have been at the highest levels of competition throughout the meet.”
Tuesday night in Race 8 at about 10:30 p.m., the eight best horses at Assiniboia Downs – no matter their age – will battle in the 66th running of the $50,000 Manitoba Gold Cup for three-year-olds-and-up.
This year’s race should not disappoint. After all, the morning line favourite is Magic Tiger at 2-1. The five-year-old gelding ridden by Damario Bynoe, trained by Wendy Anderson and owned by Wind Dancer Stable and Bill Meikle, just beat Big Nick to take the $25,000 Bocage Stakes on Aug. 29. A California bred, he began the season at Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco and arrived in Winnipeg in May and immediately won an Allowance Optional. In six races at ASD this year, Magic Tiger has won four times, including two stakes victories, and finished third, once.
Chasing Magic Tiger will be the second favourite on the morning line Big Nick (3-1) and the current Manitoba Derby champion Mano Dura (7-2). Big Nick is a five-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding that has competed 11 times this season, starting in Oaklawn Park in Arkansas back in February. Ridden by Stanley Chadee Jr., trained by veteran Murray Duncan and owned by Roll the Dice Stable and Royce Finley, Big Nick won the Rock’n USA Stakes and Harvey Warner Memorial Stakes at ASD this summer. He also finished second to Magic Tiger in the Bocage Stakes and was third in the RJ Speers Memorial Stakes.
Mano Dura, of course, is the current Manitoba Derby champ. He’s a three-year-old Kentucky-bred colt who is ridden by likely 2023 ASD jockey champion Antonio Whitehall, trained by likely 2023 ASD trainer’s champion Jerry Gourneau and owned by leading owner Henry Witt Jr. In 11 starts this summer, he has four wins, four seconds and a third and has won $138,568.
“This race is the culmination of the distance, the survivor aspect, the requirements to make it into the race and the talent required to face the other horses,” said Dunn. “It elevates this race and always has.
“You wouldn’t be out of line making a case for every horse in this race. Big Nick and Magic Tiger have exchanged blows like champion boxers all year long as they try to grab bragging rights as ‘Best on the Grounds.’ When you add in a Manitoba Derby winner who has been freshened off his Canadian Derby experience in Edmonton and should be ready to go and you have a very live invader from Alberta, a couple of other local horses who can rally hard, late and strong, it’s the perfect recipe for a race that you would expect to be of this calibre.”
Entries for the 66th running of the $50,000 Manitoba Gold Cup at Assiniboia Downs on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, over one mile and one eighth (Race 8) at approximately 10:30 p.m.
“This is such a great race,” said Dunn. “The Manitoba Derby is restricted to three-year-olds and three-year-olds only. This is for three-year-olds and up. In other words, who is the best horse on the grounds this year? We have 500-600 horses here. Which one is the best on the property at this time against the best possible field. The horse that wins the Gold Cup can say I’m the best horse on the grounds. I like that. I want to see who the gold medal winner is, if you will.”