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There is something soothing about the thunder of hooves on the backstretch during workouts at Assiniboia Downs.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/05/2020 (1116 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There is something soothing about the thunder of hooves on the backstretch during workouts at Assiniboia Downs.

The sound is music to the ears of trainer Steven Gaskin, who wasn’t sure there would be a racing season when spring workouts commenced March 1.

“It’s pretty challenging not knowing,” Gaskin says as he attends to the 29 horses he oversees at the track. “But we have an idea now (about) when we’re going ahead. You still have to keep your fingers crossed. We’re doing everything necessary to keep safe and everybody around us safe.”


For Manitobans, it will be the only way to get a live action sports fix, albeit with the aid of online broadcasts; there will be no fans allowed in the stands.

The Downs is gearing up for a May 25 opening. It will be the first major racetrack in Canada to hold live racing since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Horses are excited to get lunch as trainer Steven Gaskin dishes out oats. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“If there’s no spectators around it’s going to be different, but it’s necessary to be cautious to make this happen. It’s what it takes. We have to adapt and go with it,” Gaskin says.

The 45-year-old trainer says even his horses know something’s up. Owners are not allowed in the barns and must communicate with their trainers by phone or text after watching morning workouts online.

“Normally, there’s a lot more traffic going through here and the owners are coming for a visit with carrots and stuff like that,” says Gaskin. “It’s hard on those guys as well, not being able to come. They mostly come on weekends and these horses know — they feel it. They look forward to their weekend treats.”

Stanley Chadee, meanwhile, is one of a small contingent of six jockeys currently working at the Downs. The 30-year-old from Trinidad reached Winnipeg just before borders were closed, leaving some jockeys with no way to travel from their homes in the Caribbean.

“Most of the guys are stranded,” Chadee says. “I’m just one of the lucky ones.”

Trainer Steven Gaskin's barn at Assiniboia Downs. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Groom Deb Buffalo, who works with her husband, trainer Marvin Buffalo, recently returned home to Winnipeg after the season was cancelled at Turf Paradise Race Course in Phoenix.

Her two-week quarantine period ended April 13, and it has been mostly business as usual since then.

“There is (stress), but to be truly honest, our life doesn’t change a whole lot because we’re still working,” Buffalo says. “Many tracks weren’t open. We’re very lucky to be able to come home.”

— Mike Sawatzky

Groom Deb Buffalo with Honour Rules. Since returning home from Phoenix and self-isolating for two weeks, it has been business as usual for her at the track. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)
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