It’s the little racetrack that would, continually punching above its weight whereas dodging loads of shut calls over time. And now, after two straight pandemic-impacted seasons, Assiniboia Downs is making ready to have a good time a return to regular.
They’re on the submit. And people, you may guess they’re able to take off.
“With an exhale, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to horse around again,” Darren Dunn, the chief govt officer at ASD, stated to loud applause Thursday throughout a kickoff luncheon for the upcoming sixty fifth season.
The primary bugle name received’t occur till shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday Might 31, the primary of fifty days of racing by means of to Sept. 27. However the 2022 marketing campaign is already off to a heck of a working begin.
Wealthy Strike, the intense longshot winner of the Kentucky Derby earlier this month, is a local son, of types. His mother is Gold Strike, a thoroughbred mare born in 2002 simply exterior of Winnipeg who had a terrific profession on the Downs.
“I’m in the odds business and I have no idea what they’d be. Maybe a million to one. Maybe a billion to one. But it happened. And we are so proud of our breeders here in Manitoba,” stated Dunn. “What a great feather in their cap. They put Manitoba on the map for the world to see.”
Certainly. And, in a glass-half-full form of manner, COVID-19 did as nicely over the past two years. With main public well being protocols limiting stay spectators, ASD needed to discover different methods to remain related within the aggressive horse racing trade.
The end result was an enlargement of on-line simulcasts in locations corresponding to Australia and Europe and wagering that continually broke data and never solely had the monitor surviving, however thriving. Now, with the doorways again open to everybody, the hope is to maintain constructing off that momentum.
“For the first time in over two years we can attend restriction free from the word go,” stated Dunn, noting they’ll nonetheless very a lot be “COVID cautious.”
Not less than $125 million a yr in financial impression. The equal of greater than 1,100 full-time jobs. Tax revenues approaching $40 million yearly. There’s no query the Downs is a major contributor to the neighborhood, along with being a significant supply of leisure.
A fast apart: My introduction got here roughly 40 years in the past when, as a wee little lad, my grandfather started taking us to the monitor. The sight of those magnificent animals thundering down the stretch, the anticipation and roar of the gang had me hooked.
I’ve by no means been a lot of a gambler — a pair $2 bets per race is about as wild as I get — however the ambiance of the monitor is difficult to beat. And, lately, getting to fulfill a few of the terrific individuals who maintain it working easily, together with the trainers who journey from far and broad to arrange store right here each season, has additionally been a pleasure.
Individuals corresponding to Jerry Gourneau, the North Dakota staple who has received the main coach award two straight years, and three of the previous 4. He’s again with one other large steady this season, in search of the pure hat trick. As Dunn famous on Thursday, Indigenous trainers corresponding to Gourneau have now led the best way at ASD for seven consecutive years, and 9 of the final 13.
“The Indigenous centre of excellence for achievement in sport that occurs out here, its unlike any other sport in Winnipeg and Manitoba,” he stated.
And folks like Shelley Brown, the primary lady to ever win prime coach award (2012) who’s courageously battling most cancers. Reality is, there’s an countless listing of nice folks and personalities, compelling characters and tales to be discovered on the monitor.
ASD has discovered loads of different income streams which they’ll proceed to supply, together with three night time markets, the Summer time Of Sound dance competition and the Manito Ahbee Competition being held over this coming lengthy weekend. They’ll be freely giving 4 journeys for 2 to Las Vegas in the course of the season, have expanded the variety of off-track betting places in Winnipeg from six to eight, and have added further simulcast companions around the globe.
As a lot as this season goes to be a celebration, there will even be a way of disappointment hanging over everybody. Harvey Warner, board chair of the Manitoba Jockey Membership which operates the Downs, died abruptly in March on the age of 74, leaving a significant gap within the hearts of all who knew him.
An empty chair at Thursday’s luncheon in his honour had Dunn preventing again tears.
“It’s a chair he should have been sitting in himself today,” he stated.
Dunn spoke in regards to the impression Warner had, together with main the combat within the Nineteen Seventies to save lots of the trade in Manitoba. With the Downs in chapter beneath its non-public proprietor and dealing with an unsure future, Warner created the non-profit MJC to take it out of insolvency. The remainder, as they are saying, is historical past.
Warner owned a horse named Tough Catch, which received the Manitoba Derby in 1989. That was Dunn’s first-ever name of the province’s largest race because the newly-hired monitor announcer.
“Little did I know how intertwined our lives would become,” stated Dunn, who exchanged textual content messages with Warner when he started experiencing chest pains and went to Grace Hospital to get checked out, sending a last message that learn “Keep Me Posted.” The tragic information got here in just a few hours later.
ASD is planning to honour Warner in a number of methods, together with a celebration of life that might be held this Saturday at 2 p.m. on the monitor. They’ve additionally created the “Harvey Warner Manitoba Mile” stakes race that might be held Derby day on Aug. 1. They’ve additionally filed a proper software to have Warner thought-about for induction into the Manitoba Sports activities Corridor of Fame. Jockey Todd Kabel, who was born in McCreary and went on to a legendary profession — together with using Tough Catch to victory in 1989 — has additionally been added to the appliance. Kabel died final yr in Toronto on the age of 55.
“Both men are more than deserving of that recognition,” stated Dunn.
It ought to be a particular season. And in an trade the place underdogs normally aren’t given a lot of an opportunity — and two turbulent years have taken a heavy toll on many aspects of society — it’s good to see the native gem that’s ASD nonetheless standing tall and able to burst out of the beginning gate as soon as once more.