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Live Racing at Assiniboia Downs Starts Monday Night

May 18, 2024 8:30 AM | Sports

By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)

Presented by:

Assiniboia Downs

Darren Dunn

CEO Darren Dunn at the annual Assiniboia Downs pre-season luncheon on Friday, May 17, 2024. (SCOTT TAYLOR PHOTO)

Barry Arnason has been around Assiniboia Downs for more than 50 years. In fact, in 2023, Arnason won a special award from the Thoroughbred Horse Society for 50 years of service to the Canadian racing industry.

But even though he just turned 72 and has won most of the stakes races any horse owner could possibly win at ASD, the opening of a new season is still cause for excitement.

“Oh, yeah, I’m excited,” Arnason said on Friday afternoon. “We have three in for Opening Day on Monday and it should be fairly competitive. I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve replenished some of the stock, Lise (his trainer Lise Pruitt) has been doing a great job and everyone is ready to go.

“Lise is just doing a great job. She runs my farm in the winter and we had five foals this year so that was pretty exciting, too. It’s all going good and we couldn’t be happier. I have 19 horses in the barn that I own on my own and I have four or five that I own in partnership with other owners. We have Chicago’s Gray going in Race 4 on Monday and he’s been training really well, Yellow Birdie, one of the two-year-olds I bought last year is running in Race 3 and we’re expecting a lot from her this year. And Big Nick is running in Race 2 and he’s trained by Lise, as well, so it will be a big night.

“No matter how long I’ve been around the game, Opening Day never gets old.”

The first night of the 2024 50-date Live Thoroughbred Racing Season at Assiniboia Downs will go to post beginning at 7:35 p.m. this Monday, May 20. There will be six races on Day 1 and Arnason’s horses will play a big role in the evening.

So, too, will the horses in the barn of defending trainer’s champion Jerry Gourneau. Gourneau, who has won four straight trainer’s titles and five of the last six, will send seven horses to the post in six races on Monday. Five of those horses are owned by Henry S. Witt Jr., the Texas auto parts magnate who teamed with Gourneau to win last year’s Manitoba Derby.

It’s going to be an outstanding season at the Downs this year. The first two weeks of the meet will feature live racing on Monday and Tuesday, after which ASD will resume its regular Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday schedule with the same start time throughout the season. As well, on Monday night, Indian Horse Relay Racing, in conjunction with the Manito Ahbee Festival, will take place during the races. A remarkable cultural display with no wagering, the relay races will, for the first time, be held between the regular parimutuel races.

“It’s going to be an outstanding evening of racing but as you know, there is so much more to Assiniboia Downs than the racing that takes place on the track,” said Darren Dunn, CEO of the local racetrack.

“The COVID [pandemic], as it did to most businesses in Canada, forced us to change our direction. Our revenues were completely shut down within a 48-hour period because of COVID and we had to find a creative new business model in order to continue and thrive. It forced us to move to a strict Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday race schedule and that opened up new doors for us. It freed up our weekends and with that we created an event centre.

“We now have the luxury of saying to people, ‘go to the lake for the weekend and enjoy yourself. Go to Dauphin Countryfest, go to the Folk Festival, go the Bomber game. Enjoy your Manitoba weekends and we’ll be waiting for you on Monday night. We are a niche in the local market, but we are definitely a niche in global signal sales. Because we race on Mionday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, we are available, not only in the United States and Canada, but also Mexico, South America, Australia, England and throughout Europe.”

In the last 40 years, Assiniboia Downs nearly went bankrupt on two separate occasions. Saved by the Manitoba Jockey Club 30 years ago, Winnipeg’s little thoroughbred track is now one of the most successful in North America.

“An Independent Manitoba government study has clearly shown that 1,100 to 1,700 full-time job equivalents are created here. From $35.4 million to $40 million a year is paid in tax creation directly related to the Downs and from $125 million to $140 million in annual economic activity is created here at Assiniboia Downs. And remember, we are a non-profit organization so every dime that comes in here stays in Manitoba. We aren’t some big U.S. gaming company that is sucking money out to America.

“The money stays in Manitoba and I’m very proud of that.”

This season there will be nightly 50/50 draws available online and in person for additional chances to win some extra cash every race night and for horseplayers, there will be a $25,000 guaranteed Pick 4 pool offered on each race day as well as monthly handicapping contests for trips to Las Vegas.

The entertainment will continue with the first event of the Manitoba Night Market scheduled for Sunday, June 9 from 3 pm to 11 pm. Also, by popular demand, the RCMP Musical Ride will return in August.

And, for the second year, the $550,000 Western Canadian Triple Crown will open on Aug. 5, with the $125,000 Manitoba Derby.

“We are so excited to kick off the 2024 live racing season,” Dunn said. “The extensive list of events scheduled this year is all part of our commitment to offering the best experience possible to our community, a community of which we are so proud to be a part. We are very thankful for all of the support we have received, and we are looking forward to another great season of racing and entertainment.”

It all starts this Monday at 7:35 p.m.