We all know Derby Day — which is this holiday Monday — is special. But how can you make it even more special? Here are five ways:
1. Knowing what it is: A Derby is all about finding the best three-year-old colt or filly. But, since mostly colts enter the Derby, there’s a separate race for three-year-old girls called the Oaks. So if you want to show your horsey smarts and impress people who think you know nothing about racing, you may also call Monday Oaks Day. And actually, historically speaking, the Oaks race was devised a year before the first Derby, in a county in England in 1779.
So on Monday, you’ll see both the $75,000 Manitoba Lotteries Derby and the $50,000 Assiniboia Oaks — and if you want to give the girls an extra boost, now you know where to direct your cheers.
2. Watch for two other special races: While the Derby and Oaks are the dominant classy races, there are two others with enhanced status: the $30,000 Graduation, a sizzling 5 1/2 furlong dash for two-year-olds, typically called "babies," and the 1 1/16th mile $30,000 R. J. Speers, a race for the best older horses on the grounds which recognizes the father of racing in Manitoba.
Speers, a well-liked, flamboyant gambling man, ran River Park early in the 20th century, built Whittier Park and Polo Park and, before he died in 1955, had set the wheels in motion for the formation of Assiniboia Downs which opened in 1958.
3. Take advantage of giant pools: Derby Day is a great day for making a big score at the windows, especially if you know a little more than the vast majority of people, who will be betting on horses on the basis of names, numbers and watching who everyone else is betting on. You’ll find easy tips on short videos on the Downs website (ASDowns.com) and you’re invited to come to my tip talk at 1 p.m., 30 minutes before the races begin. I’ll be on a stage just inside the main entrance and would like nothing more than to see a loyal At the Races reader go home with a bulging pocket or purse.
4. Be aware of extras: There’s a hat contest where you can pick up $100 for any of these categories: best racing theme, most glamourous and most outrageous.
There are prizes for kids’ creations, too. Register yours at the info centre just inside the main entrance near my stage. Also, there are other giveaways and draws in which you’ll have a chance to be matched with a horse racing in the Derby. For the kids, there are pony rides, a petting farm, a bouncy gym and more. And, adding to the classiness of the day, watch for Derby Belles strutting their stuff.
5. Take it all in: Sure, you can find a seat and stay there all day and have a great time. But you can add to the memories by wandering around and watching the horses parade in the paddock before they race (can you spot the winner through body language?), go close to the rail to hear and feel the intensity of the drive to the wire, go to the third level for a bird’s-eye view of the track and the city’s downtown, and wander through the Race Book and VLT lounge in the second-level clubhouse.
Memories are made on days like this. Ramp up yours! And good luck! Racing also goes Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.