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Downs takes “fan appreciation” to a new level

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Assiniboia Downs is taking "fan appreciation days" to a whole new level Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as the 60-day live race season comes to a close.

As you might expect, there are program, food and merchandise discounts and even a $1 discount on the $6 "combo" bet on Sunday. But, to thank Manitobans for their exceptional support and well-wishing over the past months, the Downs will also hand out a Player Rewards card with 2,500 free rewards points to everyone 18 years and up. Essentially, that gives each fan $12.50 to spend as they see fit over the next weeks or months — whether it’s on food, programs, or Thursday prime rib buffets.

And not only that, but fans can increase their points immediately at the track by swiping their card each time they bet — so, if you’re at the track, be sure to "activate" your card right after entering. It will only take a couple of minutes.

Fan appreciation is part of the racing program on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Races themselves have a "wow" factor, too. The $50,000 Buffalo Stakes, the biggest race of the year for two-year-olds bred in Manitoba, will be run on Sunday, as will the longest race of the year, a 1 3/4 mile marathon. Featured in the Buffalo Stakes is likely to be a gelding named Zdeno who made history 10 days ago by winning the $50,000 Winnipeg Futurity with the first female ever to win the race in its 84-year-old history — Janine Smith, a 24-year-old from Denman Island, B.C.

Despite the fact that local owners had purchased Zdeno for $31,000 at the annual yearling sale last year — the sales topper — they weren’t expecting their Manitoba-bred to beat out seemingly better-bred horses from the U.S. So the owners, which included breeder Cam Ziprick, Barry Arnason, Darrell Sundsbak and Al Daley weren’t even at the track when their horse won, so trainer Chad Torevell accepted the trophy on their behalf. Zdeno paid $13 for a $2 wager.

The last time a Manitoba-bred won the Futurity was in 1996, a horse called Only Dreaming bred by Phil Kives, the renowned K-tel "as seen on TV" entrepreneur.

Smith gave Zdeno a masterful ride. In winning his first two lifetime races, the horse had gone to the lead — which is the way most babies know how to race. But, with other speedy types in the race, Zdeno had to learn to be rated to rally from off the pace to run down even-money favourite Maddie’s Gold — which he did by half a length.

That suddenly sets up Zdeno as the horse to watch next race season to see whether he goes on to become a contender in the Manitoba Lotteries Derby, which is a rarity for horses bred in this province. But, who knows? We already had Goldencents, the son of a locally-bred mare, race in the Kentucky Derby.

So, between munching on fan appreciation treats Sunday and swiping your Player Rewards card when you bet, take particular note of Zdeno. He appears to be a star in the making.

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