It wouldn't be a beautiful, warm spring day in Manitoba if the bugs didn't come out to play, and Sunday's opening day at Assiniboia Downs was no exception.
The bugs, as in apprentice jockeys, proved more than a bit annoying to the veteran riders as they claimed victories in four of the eight races. Tori Lynn Gandia, an apprentice out of Dublin, Ireland, by way of Hawthorne Race Track in Chicago, took two of the victories.
Her first win came in the fourth race on a bay mare by the name of Unbridled Thoughts, as she nipped last year's leading rider Paul Nolan, aboard In The Other, by three lengths. Backhanded Jane was third with Marcus Swiontek in the saddle.
"I really needed this to boost my confidence for the whole meet," said the 19-year-old rider after her first win. "I knew I had a lot of horse coming off the corner... we swung a little wide, but I knew I had enough horse. She gave me everything then, and we finished strong."
The second win, aboard Shelley Brown-trained bay mare Hello Beautiful, proved a milestone in Gandia's short career. "I can't even talk right now. This is my first time to ever ride a double in one day, and on opening day too, it was just amazing."
Rascal On Tour, ridden by Jennifer Reid, was second and Hot Toccet, with Swiontek up, came in third.
Other apprentice riders to claim victories were Janine Smith, who rode B.C. Cat, a Chad Torevell-trained mare, to victory in the first race in front of Mixed Intent and River Slaney, and Skyler Whiteshield, who rode the Jerry Gourneau-trained filly Chippawa's Gal to the wire, beating La Chiquilina and Plus Ultra.
"This feels great," said Whiteshield following his first victory at the Downs. "I couldn't have asked for anything more."
Brown, who also picked up a win with Daydream Dancer, has been high on Gandia since she walked into her barn. "When I first saw her on a horse I thought, this kid has got a lot of talent and she is going to go places.
"First of all, her work ethic is amazing," Brown went on. "She's at my barn at 5 o'clock every morning, willing to help out with anything. Her attitude is phenomenal, and she's like a breath of fresh air. She also looks fantastic on a horse. She tries her guts out, and what more can you ask from a young rider coming up?"
Reid, who took Nolan down to the final race last season before losing the leading rider title to him by one victory, also had a pair of wins Sunday. In addition to her win on Daydream Dancer, she also rode Freaky, a dark bay Blair Miller-trained colt, to victory in the third race, beating Cee's Treasure and Already Ready in the process.
"I think we won that one by a nose hair," quipped Reid after her first win. "We were jumping shadows and that cost us a bit. It feels good though, I needed that win."
Nolan, on the other hand, was held off the board in all eight races.