Manitoba Derby day is three weeks away


Advertise with us

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/07/2021 (687 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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.

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

Of course, it still will be a big race day you can share in online ( 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.

Horses and their owners and trainers are already gearing up for the $100,000 race. The Derby Trial — the prep race for the Derby — was to have been run this week with horses from outside the province vying with horses stabled at the Downs.

Will there be a Manitoba-bred horse for local fans to get behind? That’s the annual question. Only two Manitoba-bred horses have won the Derby at the Downs since 1960 — Merry’s Jay in 1976 and Royal Frolic in 1993.

Escape Clause, Manitoba’s greatest horse ever, gave it a shot in 2017 and finished second. If she had won the race, she would have been the only Manitoba-bred filly to have done so. This year, the filly Melisandre has the potential to be the first. She’s seven-for-seven wins, but will her connections opt to race against the boys in what would be a huge step up in class?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained — but that’s easy for a columnist to say.

The purse is higher this year at $100,000 — compared to $60,000 last year — but it’s complicated in these COVID times to bring horses across the border. Since U.S. horse handlers can’t cross the border with their horses without quarantining, the best way to make this happen is for horses to be transferred at the border to someone already in Canada.

But part of the fun of owning and training a stakes-winning horse is to be present in the winner’s circle and a U.S. owner or trainer can’t just hop on a plane, land in Winnipeg and grab a cab to Assiniboia Downs. Sigh!

So it will be interesting to see the horses that ultimately line up for the 1 1/8-mile race. You’ll mainly see horses that are based here and in Alberta.

Sure, it won’t be Queen Elizabeth presenting the trophy in the winner’s circle as she did after the 1970 Manitoba Derby, but every Derby seems to have a bit of drama attached to it and wondering what that will be is all part of the fun.

Ivan Bigg

Ivan Bigg
At the Races

Ivan Bigg is a railbird and handicapper at Assiniboia Downs.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us