Stakes races to look forward to…


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/05/2021 (742 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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.

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.

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

What mare back in the late 1970s set two track records at Assiniboia Downs while beating up on the boys, then dropped out of racing for a couple years to raise babies and returned in 1982 to win four more races including the Anniversary Stakes on the Downs’ birthday? And the mare did that as a Saskatchewan-bred? Unheard of!

The mare was Astral Moon, bred, owned and trained by Bill Grohn of Weyburn, Sask. Her speed raised eyebrows and made headlines. (She chopped one full second off one track record.) And that’s why the Astral Moon Stakes Monday night for fillies and mares is named for her. Watch it on MTS channels 179-180 and, of course, watch and wager in an account you can set up at

Astral Moon won a whopping 19 races from 31 starts and earned more than $62,000, which is $300,000 in today’s money. Two of those were season kick-off stakes races in 1978 and 1979.

Fast-forward a few years and you have the then-owner of Assiniboia Downs, Jim Wright, in Kentucky buying a yearling for $11,000 for his wife, Hazel. The filly, Sail to France, in her brief career won five of nine races including the Chantilly and Buttons and Bows stakes.

Of note was the filly’s rider, Ken Hendricks, who was on his way to becoming the winningest-ever jockey at the Downs with 1,666 wins. The Sail to France for three-year-old fillies is on Tuesday’s program at the Downs.

Move ahead to the early 1990s when Hazel was making more Winner’s Circle visits with One Night Lover bred at the family’s Elmingo Stables. The flashy gelding won six stakes including the ultimate Gold Cup and his memory is being celebrated by top horses in the One Night Lover Wednesday night.

Got it? And if you’re looking for a way to commit these stakes to memory, how’s this? “Looking up at the Astral Moon, the One Night Lover wistfully told his partner he’d like to Sail to France.”

Remember, Assiniboia Downs is once again spectator-free for the live race season and the only way to wager (and watch the races) in real time is through an account which you can sign up for quickly and easily. That also gives you access to racing around the world — and the chance to land a lottery-like score.

Ivan Bigg

Ivan Bigg
At the Races

Ivan Bigg is a railbird and handicapper at Assiniboia Downs.

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