Ivan Bigg

Ivan Bigg

At the Races

Ivan Bigg is a railbird and handicapper at Assiniboia Downs.

Recent articles of Ivan Bigg

Here comes ‘Horseplayer Christmas’

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Here comes ‘Horseplayer Christmas’

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Nov. 1, 2021

This Friday and Saturday many of the best horses in the world will compete at Del Mar racetrack in California in the Breeders’ Cup world championships.

There will be 14 races in all, with $31 million in purse money  up for grabs. That’s why racing fans love it so much — and the reason you may find it even more thrilling than the Kentucky Derby. Friday is babies day. That’s when top two-year-olds run in five races, two on the dirt track, three on the turf track.

That day will be particularly exciting because the race for fillies has produced giant prices in four of the past six Breeders’ Cup events in California. A $2 ticket has been worth $66.60, $125.40, $69.20 and $36.60 in those years. Will it happen again?

Nine Breeders’ Cup races will be held on Saturday. The race for top fillies and mares, called the Distaff, was supposed to feature a horse trained by Manitoba’s Rob Atras. His three-year-old filly, Maracuja, earned free entry into the $2 million race plus shipping costs after she knocked off the previously unbeaten mare, Malathaat, in a Grade 1 $600,000 shocker at Saratoga race track in upper state New York this past summer.

Monday, Nov. 1, 2021

Supplied photo
Trainer Rob Atras, from Oakbank, Man, and his wife/assistant trainer Brittney are pictured with Maracuja at a New York track. The filly had earned free entry into a $2 million Breeders’ Cup race this weekend but is being rested instead.

‘What if a jockey doesn’t try?’

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‘What if a jockey doesn’t try?’

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2021

What if a jockey doesn’t try his best in a race?  Are there consequences?

That was the substance of a question from an At the Races reader who wrote:

“I watched the last few nights of racing at ASD, and generally enjoyed the competition and close finishes. But one particular race caused me considerable dismay. In this race, one jockey appeared quite clearly to throw away his horse’s chance to win, even though the horse was well positioned to win or at least finish in the money.

“I remember many years ago reading in the paper about fines periodically being imposed on jockeys for failing to make sufficient effort to win their races but I have not heard of such actions being taken at any time more recently. Is it still being done at ASD?”

Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2021

Photo by Jason Halstead / ASD
“Grandstanding” cost jockey Sharmaree Muir $400

Wagering remains high as live racing ends

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Wagering remains high as live racing ends

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Sep. 20, 2021

Assiniboia Downs’ 2021 live race season came to an end last week with everyone - fans, horsemen and management - marvelling at the way interest in local racing has taken off.

Wagering on the final night of racing last Wednesday topped $1.7 million; a 20-cent Jackpot Pick 5 ticket (predicting the winner of the last five races) paid $3,009.

In pre-pandemic 2019, it was considered a very good day if wagering reached $300,000. This season it was twice or three times that, depending on the day. In 2019, the Downs would have had trouble guaranteeing a pick-4 pool of $10,000 (predicting four winners in a row); this year $25,000 was the guarantee and that shot up to $50,000 on the final three nights of racing.

“It is so satisfying to be able to successfully reach the finish line once again against the continued backdrop of the COVID pandemic,” Downs CEO Darren Dunn told At the Races. “For the second consecutive year, the challenges were many but were once again met head-on by our team and the horsepeople who raced here.

Monday, Sep. 20, 2021

Photo by Jason Halstead / ASD
Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn congratulates Jerry Gourneau, the track’s top trainer in 2021.

One of Manitoba’s greatest-ever horsemen

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One of Manitoba’s greatest-ever horsemen

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2021

It’s official. The 80-year-old who interrupted an early horse-training career to make French fries at a potato processing plant in his hometown of Carberry - then returned to horses with a vengeance 11 years ago - is now one of the greatest horsemen to ever saddle a horse in the province.

It became official when his seven-year-old gelding, Plentiful, the winner of the Manitoba Derby in 2017, won the Gold Cup Stakes last week in a grueling stretch drive. That gave owner/trainer Murray Duncan the top male horse to go along with the top female (Miss Imperial) on the grounds, an achievement no other trainer has attained.

It’s been some ride for the octogenarian. Who goes down south, actually Hot Springs, Ark., in the winter and comes back - after two separate visits - with a $15,000 U.S. gelding who would win the Manitoba Derby and, last year, a $25,000 US female who would win a whopping eight stakes races?

It helped to have Lady Luck on his side, too. Two other trainers had put in a claim for Miss Imperial at Oaklawn Park, the track in Arkansas, and it was Duncan who won the three-way shake.

Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2021

Photo by Jason Halstead / ASD
With trophies in the winner’s circle after Plentiful won the Gold Cup Stakes are co-owner Audrey Farol, jockey Stanley Chadee, Jr., and co-owner/trainer Murray Duncan.

How to get serious about playing the races

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How to get serious about playing the races

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2021

Well, as live racing winds down at Assiniboia Downs with only three nights remaining, this column will soon come to an end.

And that’s a good thing for you. Why? Because I’m going to turn my attention to teaching you and others how to become successful horse players in person at the track. After years of writing this column, I think it’s about time to demystify the world of racing to make it more fun and more profitable for you.

I want to be your coach. I’m calling this my “quit your job and play the races” mission. That shows the seriousness of what I’m undertaking.

The world of racing is more than horses running around an oval. In winter, for example, racing is a great escape because it’s happening under palm trees and around cactus plants. For retirees, handicapping races means keeping your mind sharp and healthy.

Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2021

Jason Halstead / ASD
Mongolian Wind, seen here winning the 2020 Manitoba Derby, tied for Horse of the Year honours with local mare Miss Imperial.

Wow! Night market, yearling sale, Queen’s Plate!

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Wow! Night market, yearling sale, Queen’s Plate!

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Aug. 16, 2021

There’s big news on the Manitoba-proud front. Manitoba’s greatest racehorse ever, Escape Clause, and her foal went on the auction block in Japan.

What did they fetch? See below.

Also take note that the popular Manitoba Night Market returns to the Downs this Sunday. More on that below, too.

First off, take note there are only 12 days of live racing remaining. After no chance of watching live racing last year because of COVID restrictions — and the lifting of restrictions only a couple weeks ago — you have only a limited time to welcome the rush of live racing back into your life: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 16, 2021

Supplied photo
Manitoba’s mighty Escape Clause and foal on the auction block in Japan.

With the Derby done, fans eye $250,000 prize

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With the Derby done, fans eye $250,000 prize

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Aug. 9, 2021

With a record-breaking Manitoba Derby in the books (see below), what is creating the biggest buzz these days at Assiniboia Downs?

• Manitoba’s mask mandate has ended, which means you can watch the races, play VLTs and dine without wearing a mask. They’re optional. But if you’re watching live racing on the main level including the outside tarmac, you must provide proof of full immunization (a QR code on your phone or printed out, or a provincial vaccination card). ASD staff will continue to wear masks.

• $250,000 can be yours if your 20-cent ticket predicting the winner of five races in a row is the only correct one (Jackpot Pick 5 wager). This continues to the end of the live race meet which runs until Wed., Sept. 15.

• Races are stretching out to include those of a mile or more. Who doesn’t love long races?

Monday, Aug. 9, 2021

Photo by Ivan Bigg
B.C. jockey Alexander Marti and trainer Robert VanOverschot with trophies from Uncharacteristic’s victory in the Manitoba Derby.

Manitoba trainer is a giant killer in New York state

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Manitoba trainer is a giant killer in New York state

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021

Being able to watch live races in person again at Assiniboia Downs is a big deal. But what also is a big deal for Manitobans these days is what happened recently at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York.  

That’s where Rob Atras of Oakbank, Man., and the horse he trains, Maracuga, knocked off the mightiest filly on the continent in the $600,000 Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks Stakes, earning the pair a berth in the vaunted Breeders’ Cup world championships in the fall. No Manitoba horseman has been able to claim that level of fame.

And Atras did it with the longest-shot filly in the compact four-horse field. His horse was 14-1. She wore down the 1-5 prohibitive favourite, Malathaat, who had never been beaten in five races, in late stretch to win by a head.

So, if you’re a homer, circle Nov. 5 and 6 on your calendar because those are the days of the Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar in California in which Atras’ horse will be entered to compete for a likely purse of $2 million.

Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021

Photo by Ivan Bigg
For the first time since 2019, race fans can watch live racing from the Assiniboia Downs tarmac.

Spectators may win $1 million on Derby Day

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Spectators may win $1 million on Derby Day

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Tuesday, Jul. 27, 2021

With spectators now being allowed to watch the races from the tarmac at Assiniboia Downs, the track is cranking up the excitement of Manitoba Derby Day this holiday Monday by offering $1 million to a player who has the only correct ticket on the Jackpot Pick 5.

The Jackpot Pick 5 is a 20-cent wager in which a player attempts to pick the winner of five consecutive races.

“We really wanted to make a big bang this year with the Derby,” said CEO Darren Dunn.  “And what better way to do that than with an unprecedented $1 million guarantee for a player with a single winning ticket? With the excitement from this, it is quite possible that the pool could even be more!”

(The $1 million guarantee assumes the current Jackpot Pick 5 pool, now at about $300,000, is not won before then. If it is won, then the guarantee for a single winning ticket on Derby Day will be $250,000).

Tuesday, Jul. 27, 2021

Photo by Jason Halstead / ASD
Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn displays a cheque that someone may get on Manitoba Derby Day.

Thundering hooves soon to become a reality

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Thundering hooves soon to become a reality

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Jul. 19, 2021

Are you looking forward to hearing the sounds of thundering hooves with horses and jockeys in the flesh?

Then stay tuned to what is happening at Assiniboia Downs. Plans are afoot to allow spectators — within limitations.

That will mean sitting at a table on the tarmac — socially distanced, of course — and going right up to the fence surrounding the racetrack. Sounds like the good old days.

Up to now, only diners with reservations have been able to watch the races, which take place from Monday to Wednesday.

Monday, Jul. 19, 2021

Photo by Jason Halstead / ASD
Flash of Glory wins the Derby Trial at odds of 11-1 after big favourite pulls up lame.

Manitoba Derby day is three weeks away

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Manitoba Derby day is three weeks away

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Jul. 12, 2021

So we’re just three weeks away from the biggest day in Manitoba horse racing — Manitoba Derby Day — and the question is: Will spectators be allowed to take in all the hoopla?

And the best answer is: Stay tuned.

Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn says he is “optimistic” that fans will be allowed but it’s provincial health authorities who ultimately will give the go-ahead — or not. Other Canadian race tracks have had their COVID-19 restrictions modified so it seems inevitable that Manitoba will follow suit at some point.

Of course, it still will be a big race day you can share in online (HPIbet.com) and by watching MTS channels 179-180. And you can still watch the races at the track by reserving a dining room table at 204-885-3330.

Monday, Jul. 12, 2021

Photo by Jason Halstead / ASD
Surging ahead in the mud is Inside Straight (red-and-white silks), the popular Manitoba Derby winner in 2016 who was trained by Oakbank native Rob Atras

‘Trump’ expunged from name; horse wins

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‘Trump’ expunged from name; horse wins

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Jul. 5, 2021

As Assiniboia Downs readies for the first of the “baby wars” on Monday, race fans are all abuzz about a horse in California that had “Trump” expunged from his name and then won.

The horse, a six-year-old gelding, had finished last as Royal Trump but won his first start as Peaceful Transfer and at longshot odds of 13-1.

It was almost as if the racing gods gave thumbs up to the name change.

It happened this way: Royal Trump was purchased at Del Mar race track in southern California in the fall for $40,000 and ran three dismal races, finishing last in the third. In the meantime, the Jan. 6 insurrection occurred at the U.S. Capitol, which prompted the horse’s new co-owner, Steve McCanne, to petition The Jockey Club in Kentucky to get rid of the Trump name.

Monday, Jul. 5, 2021

Photo by Ivan Bigg
Steve Gaskin is training the most babies at Assiniboia Downs.

Two trainers come out of the shadows

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Two trainers come out of the shadows

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Jun. 28, 2021

Two trainers at Assiniboia Downs have race fans doing a double-take.

After years of racing in the shadows, Lise Pruitt and Wendy Anderson have hit the big time. Not only are they second and third in the trainer standings, they each have a horse that has the potential to enter and win the $100,000 Manitoba Derby in August.

But, shh — they don’t want to hear anyone say that out loud for fear of attracting the attention of the purveyors of jinxes and curses.  

The star of Pruitt’s barn of 21 horses is three-year-old filly Melisandre, who is looking a lot like Manitoba’s greatest race horse ever, Escape Clause, who won more than $1 million before being retired into motherhood in Japan. Melisandre is six-for-six, winning all her races for fun, including the latest $35,000 Chantilly Stakes. And she ran that race a touch more quickly than Escape Clause did.

Monday, Jun. 28, 2021

Supplied photo by Charlotte Johnston
Wendy Anderson with City Champ, who won the Golden Boy Stakes, a prep race for the Manitoba Derby.

Horse player wins $11,325 on 20-cent wager

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Horse player wins $11,325 on 20-cent wager

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Jun. 21, 2021

A very lucky U.S. bettor who wagered all of 20 cents on a horse race at Assiniboia Downs to win $11,325 was one of eight highlights in the first month of live racing at the west Winnipeg track.

Get this: The player, who wagered the 20 cents using an online account, predicted 7-6-4-2-3 would be the correct order of finish in a bet called the Jackpot Hi-5 and the player was dead on.

All horses were longshots. Sounds like someone who could be cleaning up at keno.

Other highlights:

Monday, Jun. 21, 2021

Supplied photo by Jason Halstead
Miss Imperial with Stanley Chadee Jr. aboard wows fans with a six-furlong time of 1:11.20 in the La Verendrye Stakes.

Can you pay a few bills playing the races?

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Can you pay a few bills playing the races?

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Jun. 14, 2021

Enquiring minds want to know: “Can a person make money playing the races?”

Of course, we’ve all heard stories of players taking down a small fortune on a race or sequence of races. In fact, this column marked the 40th anniversary of Assiniboia Downs’ biggest triactor payout of $40,000 for a $2 wager.

But what most of you would like to know is whether you can count on coming out ahead on a consistent basis.

First, let’s discount the achievement of a U.S. computer nerd, Bill Benter, who made a $1 billion profit — that’s right, a billion — playing the races in Hong Kong where the betting pools are among the highest in the world. Using 120 different factors, such as jockey skill, length of race, workouts, etc., his system bet horses that were going off at higher odds than they should have.

Monday, Jun. 14, 2021

Supplied image
Bill Benter made more than $1 billion profit playing the races.

How do you follow up your best year ever?

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How do you follow up your best year ever?

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Jun. 7, 2021

What do you do in the racing season following one in which you’ve blown away your rivals for the title of top trainer?

For Jerry Gourneau at Assiniboia Downs, it’s to strive to do even better. Which is a scary - but challenging - thought for other trainers. After all, a good horse can be beaten by a better horse and that’s what other trainers are looking to do.

Last year, Gourneau did what no trainer in memory has done - he posted almost double the number of wins of his closest competitor, Tom Gardipy, Jr., who has six training titles himself. Gourneau won an impressive 24 per cent of his races, 73 of 300 starts, and six of those races were classy stakes events. That totally blew the doors off his first training title in 2018. when his win rate was 14 per cent.

Certainly Gourneau has lots of horses - 52 and counting - but winning isn’t easy and he was no overnight success. At 59, he reflects on his first foray to the Downs at 16, a First Nations Chippewa from Turtle Mountain Reserve in Belcourt, N.D. He was schooled by some of the best trainers on the grounds, including the Downs’ most succesful trainer of all time, Gary Danelson.Gourneau only dabbled in racing in the decades that followed, working primarily in school administration, but in 2010 he bit the bullet, joining brothers Dave and Bill to train full-time.Enter Henry S. Witt, Jr., a former race car driver in Texas who loved horses.

Monday, Jun. 7, 2021

ASD photo by Jason Halstead
Trainer Jerry Gourneau (giving the Texas Longhorns sign) poses in the winner’s circle with St. Louie Guy, a stakes horse claimed in Texas.

Bored? Play the racing game with your family

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Bored? Play the racing game with your family

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, May. 31, 2021

Running out of things to do as a family during COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions?

Think again. You can play the exciting horse-racing game free at home by having each family member pick the winner of seven races running at the Downs (spectator-free) on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Simply go to ASDowns.com and click on live racing or watch MTS channels 179-180.

You can get clues on the winner by watching the horses in the post parade and by listening to the three ASD analysts between the races. Also, note you can have a race program delivered free to your residence simply by calling 204-885-3330, ext. 225 the day before the races.

That’s right, there’s no charge.

Monday, May. 31, 2021

Coady Photography
Manitoba-owned Real Grace is named Horse of the Year in Alberta after winning $100,000 Canadian Derby at 18-1.

Downs marks anniversary of giant payout

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Downs marks anniversary of giant payout

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, May. 24, 2021

As Assiniboia Downs marks the 40th anniversary of its biggest triactor payout ever, the track also has good news for players. It has increased payouts for winning tickets.

It’s done so by reducing its take-out, the percentage it takes off each wager for purse money and operational costs.

“We are so thankful for such an incredible year last season,” said ASD CEO Darren Dunn.

“Horseplayers made that happen and we wanted to make some changes that were going to positively benefit them.”

Monday, May. 24, 2021

Supplied photo
Errol Bryan recalls the day he sold a $2 triactor ticket that paid a record $40,000.

Stakes races to look forward to…

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Stakes races to look forward to…

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Tuesday, May. 18, 2021

How do you like your stakes?

If you just heard the question and not read it, you might answer: “Medium rare” or some such thing. But seeing the word “stakes” would more likely elicit the answer: “fast and competitive.”

And, lucky you, the first of 32 stakes races that will fire out of the gate at Assiniboia Downs this race season are on tap for this coming Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. What gives these stakes a delicious dash of “seasoning” is the fact they are named for fan-favourite horses from the past.

Just a mere mention of these horses’ names might — depending on your age — foster a rush of memories and emotions.

Tuesday, May. 18, 2021

Supplied photo
Jockey Irwin Driedger on the great Astral Moon in 1982. The mare’s achievements will be celebrated Monday, May 24 at Assiniboia Downs.

Love live racing? Here’s what to do on Monday

Ivan Bigg 5 minute read Preview

Love live racing? Here’s what to do on Monday

Ivan Bigg 5 minute read Monday, May. 10, 2021

Love live, local racing? Then this coming Mon., May 17 at 6:45 p.m., go to ASDowns.com Click on ‘ASD Live’ at the top of the page and that link will take you to a trio of racing analysts discussing the opening night of Assiniboia Downs’ 64th season of racing, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. And, to be ready to wager on those races online, go to HPIbet.com any time to quickly and easily set up an account. Then you’ll be ready to enjoy and participate in 50 days of live racing. In its first week, racing will be conducted Monday and Tuesday and will then continue on a Monday to Wednesday schedule until the meet ends in mid-September. Post time every day is 7:30 p.m.Will the track attract more than $1 million in daily wagering as it did almost every day last year? Will you be able to land a big score simply with 20-cent wagers? Will Jerry Gourneau continue to dominate the trainer standings as he did last year when he won the title for the second time?Racing is always a thrill, even when you participate from home. ☐☐☐So what should you expect this season? A raft of new jockeys, for one thing. Half of the 14 initial jockeys are new to the colony. They come from Toronto, Barbados, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the United States. Two-time leading rider Antonio Whitehall is back, as is the only female rider, Kayla Pizzaro, whose brother has been riding in Toronto. Whitehall won 25 per cent of his 300 races last year. Last year’s leading trainer, Jerry Gourneau from North Dakota, is likely to have the biggest stable, with just under 50 horses, and five-time leading trainer Tom Gardipy, Jr., who hails from Saskatchewan, is likely to have about 40.Among hundreds of horses will be about 60 to 70 youngsters who are yet to race. One of those horses, Diamond Digger, is in the photo that accompanies this column. Trainer Michael Nault bought him a Kentucky auction last fall.The most celebrated horse will be Real Grace, who won the Grade 3 Canadian Derby in Edmonton last fall. That was the race that gave hope and joy to his trainer, Shelley Brown, who had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. And how is she doing this season? Remarkably, well. She said the new drug Ibrance appears to be slowing down cancer growth and her stable is likely to grow to 30 horses.So what will you be doing at 6:45 p.m. Monday? Need I say more?Oh yes, note that the second leg of the U.S. Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes from Maryland, goes this Sat., May 15 afternoon. Watch and wager in your HPIbet account.

Love live, local racing? 

Then this coming Mon., May 17 at 6:45 p.m., go to ASDowns.com.

Click on ‘ASD Live’ at the top of the page and that link will take you to a trio of racing analysts discussing the opening night of Assiniboia Downs’ 64th season of racing, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. 

Monday, May. 10, 2021

Photo by Ivan Bigg
Groom/exercise rider Hanna Dilts shows off two-year-old colt Diamond Digger, bought at Kentucky auction

Why are Assiniboia Downs horsemen so happy?

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Preview

Why are Assiniboia Downs horsemen so happy?

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, May. 3, 2021

Colour horsemen happy. The purse for this year’s Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs on the August long weekend will be $100,000, compared to $75,000 in past years. And purses across the board at every level have been increased as well.

“What gives?” we asked chief executive officer Darren Dunn.

“Horsemen were patient and supportive through a challenging season last year, forcing them to sacrifice a number of racing opportunities,” Dunn said. “We’re now in a position to return that support with these adjustments.”

Despite the pandemic - or, perhaps, because of the pandemic - the Downs experienced its best-ever year in wagering last year ($63.3 million), with daily betting spiking to five times the previous year’s average. When the Downs began its season of live racing in late May (with no spectators in the stands, of course), few tracks on the continent were racing, so online wagering of Assiniboia Downs races took place as far afield as Germany, England, Mexico and Australia.

Monday, May. 3, 2021

Supplied photo by Jason Halstead
Miss Imperial won the $25,000 Canstar Canada Day Stakes last year; this year the purse will be $35,000.

Greatest mare gives birth; Derby day Saturday

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Preview

Greatest mare gives birth; Derby day Saturday

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Apr. 26, 2021

As Assiniboia Downs prepares for live racing two weeks from Monday - and Manitoba’s greatest mare nurses her first foal an ocean away - attention turns to the greatest two minutes in sports, the Kentucky Derby, this Saturday at Churchill Downs.

At a time when lives are disrupted by the pandemic, it is of some solace that one of racing’s most enduring events soldiers on, albeit with fewer fans at the track - but with millions watching around the world.

Twenty three-year-olds will fire out of the gate, which can include a top colt from Japan and another from Europe, where there have been Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying races just as there have been in the U.S.

While two Canadian colts have won the Derby in its 146-year history - Northern Dancer in 1964 and Sunny’s Halo in 1983 - both were Ontario-breds.

Monday, Apr. 26, 2021

Supplied photo by Noriko Takahashi
Manitoba’s greatest race horse, Escape Clause, with foal fathered by Japanese Derby winner Duramente.

Emotional win in Edmonton for Manitoba trainer

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Preview

Emotional win in Edmonton for Manitoba trainer

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Monday, Oct. 5, 2020

Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it any better.

After a racing season filled with surprises, the biggest, best and most emotional surprise came on Sept. 27 at Century Mile race track in Edmonton, when an underdog Manitoba horse won the $100,000 Canadian Derby.

The three-year-old gelding, Real Grace, wasn’t supposed to like the long distance of the Derby (1 ¼-miles) and he was ridden by an apprentice jockey, Mauricio Malvaez, who had never won a stakes race. Nonetheless, Real Grace, at odds of 18-1, turned his heels up to the competition and gave his cancer-stricken trainer/co-owner Shelley Brown the biggest victory in her 11-year career.

“I needed this to help keep my spirits up,” she was quoted as saying after the race which she watched from her Winnipeg home.

Monday, Oct. 5, 2020

Supplied photo by Dale MacMillan
Shelley Brown’s Real Grace won the Canadian Derby at Century Mile in Edmonton on Sept. 27 (note the face mask on jockey Mauricio Malvaez).

Horse of the year honoured without fanfare

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Preview

Horse of the year honoured without fanfare

Ivan Bigg 3 minute read Tuesday, Sep. 29, 2020

Presentation of the horse of the year award is usually a big deal.

That’s why annual banquets are held before the live race season begins to hand out awards to the top-performing horses and people from the previous year at Assiniboia Downs.

But in the Year of Covid there was no spring banquet and you had to be a detective — or a nosy reporter — to find out if and how the awards were being dispensed this year.

As it turned out, award winners came one by one into the Winner’s Circle, very quietly one afternoon several weeks ago,  to be presented with a plaque or trophy while their pictures were taken. While no one was there from the NHL to crank out fake crowd noise,  that might have been a nice touch.

Tuesday, Sep. 29, 2020

Photo by Jason Halstead / ASD
Shelley Brown, who is battling Stage 4 cancer, was all smiles when her horse, Cash or Card, was named two-year-old colt of the year.