Bob GATES is on a quest to find Manitoba horse racing's Holy Grail.
While perhaps not as adventurous as Indiana Jones, the Assiniboia Downs track historian also has a passion for hunting down historical artifacts. Recently, Gates embarked on a mission to locate the original Manitoba Derby Trophy, which disappeared several years ago with no plausible explanation.
"I started thinking about the trophy this year when I was given (a replica) plaque of it by Jim Fields, the grandson of Jim Speers, (who raced horses at River Park in St. Boniface in 1922, and built tracks at Whittier Park in 1924 and Polo Park in 1925)," explained Gates.
"Then when Downs CEO Darren Dunn was giving his Derby speech in August, he spoke about the Queen's Cup (the current Manitoba Derby trophy). I thought if the Queen's Cup debut was in 1970, and this one started in 1934, what happened to this one?"
The origin of the 75-cm-high trophy is outlined on the plaque. It states: "This handsome cup was originally presented to the Manitoba Turf Club in 1884 by Dr. Jas Kerr to be competed for in the gentlemen's running race, which was the main feature of a four-day running and harness meeting at the old Prairie Park.
"Fifty years later (now the property of the Winnipeg Jockey Club), the trophy is attached to the Manitoba Derby, which classic mile-and-a-quarter contest annually features the fall race meeting at Polo Park."
Filling in the historical gaps, Gates said, "The first four derbies (1930-33) were called the Manitoba Stakes. In 1934 it was changed to the Manitoba Derby and the trophy was given away for the first time. The Derby ran until 1940. Then, in 1941, Speers agreed to open it to Canadian-breds, and ran it as the Canadian Derby up to the time that Polo Park closed in 1956. In 1957, the Canadian Derby was shipped to Edmonton and it never came back and it appears the trophy went with it."
In 1960, Jack C. Hardy, who built Assiniboia Downs in 1957, resurrected the Manitoba Derby, and "from 1960 to 1969, there really was no trophy," said Gates. "They gave away silver trays. Then from 1970 until today, the Queen's Cup has been the Manitoba Derby Trophy."
Gates says inquiries have shown the trophy is not in the possession of either the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame or its counterpart in Alberta. "I'm now waiting on a reply from Northlands Park in Edmonton to see if they have it. Maybe it's just sitting in somebody's basement or garage somewhere."
Should it turn up at Northlands Park, Gates wonders, "What are they doing with it? If it has a prominent place in a trophy case, they might not be so willing to give it up. I don't want to steal anything from the Canadian Derby, but that trophy, for the first 11 years, it started here. Honestly, it belongs here."
If anyone has information about the missing Manitoba Derby Trophy they can call the Downs at 204-885-3330 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Gates will get back to you.
Meanwhile, four stakes races featuring a total of $200,000 in prize money grace this weekend's schedule at Assiniboia Downs. Tonight it's the $50,000 J.W. Sifton for Manitoba-bred three-year-olds and the $50,000 Matron for fillies and mares three years old and up. Saturday sees Manitoba Derby winner Balooga Bull running in the $50,000 Gold Cup for three-year-olds and up. Also on the program is the $50,000 Winnipeg Futurity for two-year-olds.
Post time both nights is 7 p.m.