John Kendle, the managing editor of this and other Canstar Community News papers, should be feeling pretty proud.
Crowds at his paper’s special day at the races on Canada Day were even bigger than last year’s Derby Day. And hundreds of you clipped coupons from his papers to give yourself a discount on programs and wagers. About $340,000 was bet that day.
If you weren’t there, you missed a good one, and you might want to tuck this fact into the back of your mind to be sure to come out to next year’s Canstar Day at the Races on Canada Day.
And while the biggest race of the afternoon, the $30,000 Canstar Canada Day stakes to determine the best mare on the grounds, had its usual triumphant celebration (with Kendle presenting the trophy to the winning connections), it also had its touching side.
Few knew that Jim Meyaard, the trainer of race-winner Lil Misknowitall, was hurting inside. Not until he held up his glass trophy and shouted: "This is for Trent" did we find out that his only child, Trent, 22, was fighting for his life in an Edmonton hospital after being injured in a Jeep rollover accident in northern Alberta a week before his dad’s big race. Head injuries initially put his son into a coma, but it appeared the worst was behind him, Meyaard said.
Dad choked back tears in an interview in the winner’s circle as he turned his attention to his big win, describing track conditions at Assiniboia Downs as "unbelievably good," giving his horses the opportunity to show their best stuff. Lil Missknowitall had to get by the perennial top mare on the grounds, Golden Stripe, for victory and she did so in a thrilling surge in the late stretch.
But Meyaard’s other horses have also been achieving stardom and he is, by far, the leading percentage trainer, winning 54% of his races. The next best is 37.5% by trainer Rob Atras, and even that is an amazing number.
Meyaard races horses across the country, primarily at Northlands Park in Edmonton, but he says Assiniboia Downs has the best surface of all. "My horses come back happy, and when my horses are happy, I’m happy." The safe, horse-friendly surface is borne out by the statistics: fatal horse breakdowns are few and far between at the track, making it among the safest if not THE safest track in North America, with an average of only two or three breakdowns a year.
In fact, the previous chair of the Manitoba Horse Racing Commission, David Miles, said, upon retiring this spring, that the low breakdown rate at the Downs was a highlight of his 11-year tenure as a racing official.
In other shenanigans on Canstar Canada Day, Blue Bombers mascot Boomer led a team of four mascots to win the Great Mascot Race to raise money for Child Find Manitoba, the first-ever Gigantic Garage Sale won kudos from vendors which should make it an annual event and "track invasion" had dads joining their kids in the horses’ starting gate to race down the stretch where 55 years of history has been made.
Live racing continues Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and remember I reveal racing "secrets" 30 minutes before post time at the stage just inside the main entrance. See you there, I hope! Attendees have been doing especially well lately!