Let’s get ready to rumble!
Assiniboia Downs kicks off its 2020 live racing Monday, and for the first time in history it will occur without spectators in the stands.
Fans will participate at the virtual betting windows — some to be part of history and others to jump into what are expected to be deep wagering pools.
With live racing scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m., the Downs has positioned itself to take advantage of less competition from other racetracks, and the betting pools are expected to grow accordingly.
It’s not just local and Canadian fans who will be swimming in the ASD pools using HPIbet.com. There are wagering sites around the globe offering betting on the Downs’ product. And to attract even more wagering, the local track is offering a guaranteed Pick-4 pool of $10,000 and HPIbet.com is offering a $100 sign-up bonus for new members, as well as a three per cent cash-back incentive until May 27.
Fans will be able to watch the live races via the HPIbet.com app and on MTS Channels 179-180. Races will also be streamed from asdowns.com.
For the purists who just love to watch the races, the fields should be extremely competitive. Demand for stalls was higher this year and the selected horse population in the backstretch right now looks healthy, fit and ready to rock ’n’ roll.
Winners could come from anywhere, and that includes fit stables from south of the border, as well as some of the best horses from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Large stables already on the grounds include those of top trainers Tom Gardipy Jr., Steve Gaskin, Mike Nault, Shelley Brown, Jared Brown and Courtney Ross, along with good-sized stables from Wendy Anderson, Elton Dickey, Devon Gittens, Ryan Desjarlais and numerous three-to-five horse stables from around Manitoba. Top Alberta-based trainer Tim Rycroft recently arrived with a large stable, and Jerry Gourneau, who led the standings in 2018, was expected to ship in up to 50 horses.
The best of the best will be in action on the first three nights, with three stakes races named after some of the most famous horses in the history of the Downs.
On Monday, the Go Go Lolo stakes for older mares will be a tribute to a horse that won seven stakes races, most of them by launching a heart-stopping rush in the late stretch.
On Tuesday, the Liz’s Pride stakes for three-year-old fillies will honour a two-year-old who, in 1978, won all seven of her races and was honoured with a Sovereign Award as the top two-year-old in Canada. And on Wednesday, the Iwoodificould stakes for older males will remember a horse who won two Free Press stakes in a row.
The track opening has been a godsend for owners and horsemen at the track who have poured countless dollars into their horses, but also for all the people who work in the industry in Manitoba, especially the breeders. More than 30 new Manitoba-bred foals have been reported so far and countless more are likely on the way. And many of the newborns romping around in fields of green all over the province have famous relatives already at the track you’re going to want to watch for.
Topping the celebrity Manitoba-bred list is undefeated superstar filly Hidden Grace, trained by Nault, who also has two-year-old full sisters to both Hidden Grace and the best horse in Manitoba history, Escape Clause, under his care. Escape Clause’s full sister was named Reasonable Cause by her owner-breeders, Barry Arnason, Cam Ziprick and Charles Fouillard, and they’re expecting big things from this gorgeous filly, who also almost never made it.
Shipped to Kentucky as a yearling, Reasonable Cause was expected to bring six figures in a Kentucky Sale, but a lightning strike spooked her into jumping a fence and skewering herself. You’d never know it by the way she looks now.
"The accident was just bizarre," said Arnason. "She was harpooned. They could have put her down. I ended up picking her up and bringing her home. There was an open wound for six months, but it was underneath, it drained well and it’s all healed up now. You can’t even tell she had the injury. When she gallops there’s no sign of it. I’ve got a special link to this horse now and I just love her."
There’s definitely a positive vibe in the backstretch this year, and not just the bubbly optimism you always see in the spring. This time it’s different.
The horses are in on it, too.