Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

She's a thoroughbred rider

After downer at Downs, Stianson gets a Sovereign

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She started the year on the highest note possible, winning the first four races of the 2008 live racing season at Assiniboia Downs.

Halfway through, she hit the lowest possible note, effectively run out of Winnipeg by Manitoba Horse Racing Commission stewards in August for what they said was excessive whipping.

So there's some symmetry, then, that Downs rider Janine Stianson finished the year back on top last night at the Sovereign Awards in Toronto, winning Canadian thoroughbred racing's highest honour as the top apprentice jockey in Canada.

It's the first time a Downs apprentice has been honoured with a Sovereign since McCreary's Todd Kabel won the award in 1986. Kabel used it as a springboard to a lucrative career at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack, where he was Canada's leading rider for the better part of a decade.

A similar future now seems in the cards for Stianson, 26, who described last night's award, presented at a gala banquet at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel, as a sweet ending to a turbulent year.

"It was definitely icing on the cake for a year that was right from the get-go in the spotlight for me," said the Moose Jaw native. "From winning the first four races of the year to everything that happened leading up to now, it was a very publicized year.

"I'm glad it ended on such a positive note compared to what went on in amongst it."

After leaving Winnipeg in disgust, Stianson moved on to ride at her former home, the tiny thoroughbred track in Lethbridge, Alta. She also rode a handful of quarterhorse races at Edmonton's Northlands Park, but last night's award was earned almost solely from her riding in Winnipeg.

It is extremely rare for a jockey from the Downs to get a nomination for an award that is almost exclusively dominated by riders at richer Ontario tracks. Stianson defeated two Fort Erie apprentice nominees last night, both of whom had more purse earnings than she did.

Winnipeg Free Press handicapper George Williams was also nominated for a Sovereign last night, but his nomination in the best newspaper story category was second-best to a story written by Globe and Mail reporter Beverley Smith.

But last night, Williams only wanted to talk about Stianson's win. "I think it's incredible. This is a major win. It really shows something."

Williams, a 30-year veteran of the Downs, said Stianson's talent was apparent to everyone who watched her. "With most apprentices, the horses run away from them. But she had talent. She'll do well wherever she goes."

Stianson said she's had offers from Woodbine, but hasn't decided where she'll ride next year. She laughed when asked if Winnipeg was still an option, but didn't rule it out.



What a year!


May 2, 2008 -- Riding for trainer Jared Brown, Stianson wins the first four races in a row on opening night at Assiniboia Downs.

Aug. 17, 2008 -- With five weeks still left in the live Downs meet, Stianson packs her bags and leaves town after she is handed her third 'excessive whipping' charge by Downs stewards. Officials say she whips her horses too frequently; defenders, and she had plenty, counter that she uses a short stroke learned in quarterhorse riding that causes no discomfort.

Dec. 12, 2008 -- With a record of 68 wins, 58 seconds and 48 thirds in 370 races, Stianson wins the 2008 Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding apprentice jockey.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2008 D2

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