The king of Assiniboia Downs, two-time Horse of the Year Balooga Bull, has met his match — and suddenly there’s a new dynamic among older horses at the track.
Balooga, winner of the $75,000 Manitoba Derby two years ago and the $50,000 Gold Cup the past two years, was defeated in the $30,000 Winnipeg Free Press stakes by a four-year-old colt purchased during the winter in Arizona by a top percentage trainer, Rob Atras. The horse, Magic D’Oro, is owned by a Winnipeg electrician, Martin Yeroschak, and Saskatoon McDonald’s franchisee Robert Mitchell.
Balooga took his customary lead in the race under a good hold by Paul Nolan, the Downs’ leading rider the past two years, but he couldn’t match strides with Magic D’Oro in mid-stretch and lost by one-and-a-quarter lengths. The time of the six furlong (three-quarter mile) race was a quick 1:10 3/5. Magic D’Oro was ridden by Peruvian pistol Adolfo Morales, who’s been on a tear, winning 36 per cent of his races, an incredible number. Magic paid $5.70 for each $2 wager; if Balooga had won, he would have paid just $2.90.
Jubilation ruled the Winners’ Circle after the race with more hugging than in a family reunion. Trainer Rob Atras’ mother, Tanis Atras, who helps groom her son’s horses, was particularly elated. After all, her 29-year-old son had done what other horsemen only dream of doing.
But the question now is: Was this a one-time win or will Magic D’Oro assume the mantle as the new "bully" on the block, winning other stakes races on the way to the biggest race for older horses, the Gold Cup in September? Balooga, trained by 11-time leading trainer Ardell Sayler and owned by South Dakota cattle rancher Paul Brandt, will certainly be looking for redemption.
Is it in the cards?
Balooga has a highly impressive record of 13 wins from 17 starts and his only losses came at the hooves of Pleasant Closing who, unfortunately, broke down at Hawthorne race track in Chicago during the winter. That seemingly had left Balooga with little competition — until Magic came on the scene. Their next possible meeting? The $30,000 Wheat City Stakes Wednesday, July 16.
That race will be longer — one mile — and Magic D’Oro has yet to prove himself at that distance, whereas Balooga has. That would be some match-up!
Racing continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. Note that while the Red River Exhibition is running next door to the Downs (until Sunday), you should use the back entrance to the track, off Saskatchewan Avenue.