Thirty-nine years ago next week, two historic events occurred simultaneously at Assiniboia Downs.
The first was the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II, who was in town as part of the celebrations of Manitoba's Centennial and spent the day in a private box at the Downs watching the 22nd running of the Manitoba Derby.
And the other history-maker that day was the winner of the big race, a gorgeous three-year-old filly named Fanfreluche.
Neither of those two events has ever been repeated -- the Queen has never again visited Assiniboia Downs and a filly has never again won the Manitoba Derby.
Until, maybe, this year. Because while the Queen will be nowhere near the Downs this Monday for the 61st running of the Manitoba Lotteries Derby, a filly could very well find herself in the winner's circle once again. A pair of fillies in fact.
Three-year-old Kentucky-bred filly Muffin's Star will head to the post Monday for the biggest thoroughbred race of the year as the only filly in a 10-horse field. And she will be piloted by a woman, 45-year-old American rider Vicky Baze.
"We're women in a male-dominated industry," Baze said Thursday after a pre-race news conference at the Downs.
"A lot of people attach stigma to women in racing.
"But I don't believe it matters. It all comes down to ability."
Baze would be the first female jockey to win a Manitoba Derby if she can find the winner's circle on Monday and it would be even more of a stunner if she did it aboard a filly in a race where Fanfreluche stands as the only female horse to ever win.
With that kind of history working against the pair, the morning line of 10-1 on Muffin's Star -- as installed by Downs oddsmaker Dustin Davis on Thursday -- is either a bit generous or a genuine acknowledgment of the legitimate chances of a horse who will carry a two-race win streak into Monday.
Baze will be riding Muffin's Star for the first time on Monday. The filly has been ridden in her last three races at the Downs by three-time leading rider Alan Cuthbertson. But Cuthbertson defected for the big race, choosing instead to ride the pre-race second favourite, Hilton's Cherokee.
He may have been having second thoughts about that, however, after the post position draw Thursday afternoon saw his mount draw position one.
Cuthbertson described that as the worst possible draw for a horse that combines a reputation for bad starts with an almost reckless abandon to make up for it by subsequently charging to the lead, regardless of who's in the way.
With his mount on the far inside of a big field, Cuthbertson described that combination as problematic for Monday.
"If he stumbles in the gate and there are five horses in front of us, that's a serious problem," said Cuthbertson.
"He just has no regard for anything in his way and I don't want to have to wrestle him.
"He's a lot stronger than I am."
Asked for his take on the post position draw at the pre-race news conference, the trainer of Hilton's Cherokee motioned to a nearby bar. "I'm going to have a drink," said 1996 Derby winner Emile Corbel.
Just two horses shipped in from other places for this year's Derby, with the remaining eight entries all local campaigners. That might have something to do with the fact that for the first time in 11 years, the Derby purse has been cut from $100,000 to $75,000.
Harvey Warner, president of the Manitoba Jockey Club, said the cut was made reluctantly but was necessary as part of a general belt-tightening at the track as the MJC continues to negotiate what they hope will be a new long-term VLT deal with the province.
Warner said the cut may have proven to be a blessing in disguise, keeping away powerhouse three-year-olds from other tracks that might otherwise have scared off the local competition and resulted, as in some previous years, in small fields for the biggest race of the year.
"At a hundred grand, you get a bear and who's going to want to race. At 75 grand, we've got more of a race."
MONDAY'S 61st running of the Manitoba Lotteries Derby
1. Hilton's Cherokee (3-1) Alan Cuthbertson
2. Celtic Thane (30-1) Carlos Marquez
3. Tease The Tiger (6-1) Jake Barton
4. Wooden Ya Know It (6-1) David Lopez
5. Smuggler's Hold (5-2) Adolfo Morales
6. Storm Ranger (40-1) Larren Delorme
7. Secret Officer (10-1) Mike Iammarino
8. Theglow (7-2) Rohan Singh
9. Muffin's Star (10-1) Vicky Baze
10. Trick or Bluff (50-1) Tim Gardiner
Pre-race favourite Smugglers Hold ships in from Minneapolis and is well-tested at the distance... The dark brown gelding is a seasoned traveller, having raced 10 times at six tracks since last July... Trainer Emile Corbel has christened Hilton's Cherokee 'Paris' after his famous celebrity namesake. "Because he's so gorgeous."... A hearing before the Manitoba Horse Racing Commission was scheduled for Thursday night to hear evidence in a dispute over ownership of Theglow... Older local heavyweight Monsoon Rain will be the star attraction Saturday night in the $30,000 RJ Speers... Nobody's asking but I like Rachel Alexandra to win the Haskell Invitational in Monmouth on Sunday... On Monday, I'm going with Wooden Ya Know It in the Manitoba Lotteries Derby. The filly runs second and Theglow rounds out the triactor.