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The biggest horse racing day of the year has arrived at Assiniboia Downs — Derby Day. And, while there can’t be another record crowd this year, there will be millions of dollars pouring into the betting pools from around the world for three very good reasons.
Racing secretary Dustin Davis has put together a stellar eight-race card for Monday, highlighted by the 72nd running of the $60,000 Manitoba Derby, a $50,000 guaranteed Pick 4 pool, and a Super High 5 Jackpot mandatory payout on the last race that could skyrocket the current carryover pool of $188,268.
Trainer Robertino Diodoro, who has won the local Derby three of the past four years, will once again have the morning-line favourite for Manitoba’s most prestigious race — this time with Something Natural (6/5), who is owned by the same Alberta group he won the race for in 2018 with Sky Promise. Claimed out of his last start at Churchill Downs for $20,000 on June 28, Something Natural finished third in the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes four starts ago and he has already won going a mile and sixteenth.
"He’s run against some tough horses," said Diodoro from his current home base at Saratoga Race Course in New York. "I don’t think the distance is going to be an issue. And it looks like the race could set up for him. I know the race is run on dirt and not paper, but it looks like there’s some speed to the inside of him. And we’ve got Rico (Walcott) in the saddle again. We’ve had a lot of success with him over the years."
Something Natural has the best Beyer speed figure (75) in the field, but he’s only one point ahead of second choice Real Grace (74), who was impressive winning the Derby Trial here for trainer Shelly Brown on July 13. Walcott was aboard Real Grace for the Trial, but he’s on Something Natural for the Derby, so leading Assiniboia Downs rider Antonio Whitehall will be aboard Real Grace on Monday.
There are a few others in this year’s Derby that are close on numbers too. Gambler (73), Mongolian Wind (69) and Mr. Unusual (69) are all capable of improving. In other words, Something Natural has to bring his "A" game to win.
Mongolian Wind, who is trained by Wade Eno, showed some heart breaking his maiden by a neck in a $40,000 claiming race going a mile at Los Alamitos Race Course in California in his last start on June 28. And both Gambler and Mr. Unusual are conditioned by runaway leading trainer Jerry Gourneau, who can never be underestimated, especially in big races here. Gourneau’s charges ran 1-2-3 in Wednesday’s Manitoba Mile, and his horses have won numerous times this year at big odds.
"Mr. Unusual has been facing some tough horses in Kentucky and he’ll go the distance," said Gourneau. "I don’t know if Gambler will like the distance or not, but I know he’ll try. He always tries."
Rounding out the Derby field are Rollin Sevens, yet another gutsy type from trainer Murray Duncan’s barn; Derby Trial fifth place finisher Robbi’s River Run for trainer Clint Wilson; and longshot Bring Home Stanley, who is still a maiden for trainer Maria Stanford.
The Manitoba Derby goes as the seventh of eight races on Monday. It’s the third leg of the $50,000 guaranteed Pick 4 sequence of races that begins in the fifth race and ends with a wacky 12-horse field that could see up to seven horses battling for the early lead. It’s a great way to end the card, because if you can decipher the last race, you’ll not only get good odds, but a chance to score big on the Super High 5 Jackpot for as little as 20 cents. Who’s not taking a shot at that?
"It’s just a shame I won’t be able to come up, because of the COVID restrictions," said Diodoro, who is sending his Derby favourite up to trainer Jared Brown for the big race. "I know a couple of the owners are going to come.
"We can’t say enough good about Winnipeg and how they treat you there. They put a good show on. It’s nice to see Assiniboia Downs doing so well, and the big handles. There’s a lot of tracks in bad shape, and some that didn’t even get going because of this COVID thing. It’s definitely going to be different this year though, with no fans at the track, and the Derby running on a Monday night.
"Who would have ever dreamed that?"
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