LIVE horse racing at Assiniboia Downs ended on a positive note with the total wagering handle up a whopping 24 per cent over 2008.
At a time when wagering handles were down at numerous racetracks across North America, Assiniboia Downs defied the trend. Total wagering for the 2009 live race meet was $8,881,627 compared with $6,803,930 in 2008. And this was despite five fewer live racing days in 2009. Average wagering per day was up 29 per cent, from $100,058 in 2008 to $140,978 in 2009.
Much of the wagering increase can be attributed to numerous new simulcast partners taking the Wednesday evening racing signal, which to the delight of local bettors resulted in a significant increase in the betting pools. The cancellation of traditional Sunday racing in favour of Wednesday evening racing appears to be an experiment that worked, certainly from a dollars and cents standpoint.
"Overall, we're encouraged by the results," said Manitoba Jockey Club president Harvey Warner, adding the organization would take a look at how the cancellation of Sunday racing affected overall VLT revenues, dining room sales, etc.
In a summer when wagering on horse racing plummeted as much as 16 percent and more across North America, the average on-track handle per day at Assiniboia Downs was down only 10 per cent, from $74,893 in 2008 to $66,780 in 2009. The dramatic 64 per cent increase in partner wagering per day at Assiniboia Downs, from $25,164 in 2008 to $74,198 in 2009, appeared to be more than enough to offset the expected decline in on-track wagering.
There's no questioning the highlight of the 2009 live racing season -- it was the arrival of jockey Vicky Baze.
The 45-year-old rider from Washington had to wait until the end of July to get her shot in an overflowing jocks' room, but once she did, she went on a tear, winning 39 races and $280,171 in purses from only 184 mounts to finish sixth in the standings.
She was easily the most aerodynamic rider in the room, always riding lower in the saddle than the other jockeys. When she got to the top of the stretch, she was like a cat ready to pounce and there was no way you were beating her with a lesser horse -- or even one with equal ability. A serious talent along with her Hall of Fame jockey husband Gary, who was injured early in the season, Vicky indicated they would both be back next year.
Larren Delorme used an aggressive riding style and a much more mature attitude to take the 2009 riding title by 39 wins over an improved Tyrone Nelson, compiling a record of 86-84-64 from 408 mounts and purse earnings of $703,955. Consecutive three-time jockey champion Alan Cuthbertson finished third in the standings with 45 wins, but indications are he will be back next year to try and get his title back.
The battle for top spot in the trainer standings came down to the final weekend and still couldn't be decided outright. Tom Gardipy Jr. and Carl Anderson fought it out right to the wire and ended up tied with 45 wins each. It was the first Assiniboia Downs trainer title for both men, who narrowly defeated nine-time training champ Ardell Sayler (42 wins.)
With Larren Delorme, a Sioux-Chippewa from Devil's Lake, N.D., taking the riding title, and Tom Gardipy, a Cree from Beardys Reserve near Saskatoon, capturing the trainer title, it is believed to be the first time in history two First Nations members have topped the standings in the same season at a major race track -- and certainly a first for Assiniboia Downs.
Other highlights among the trainers including talented young newcomers Rob Atras and Shelley Brown. Brown compiled a record of 9-12-10 from 63 starts and Atras compiled a record of 8-7-1 in 28 starts.