Everything you wanted to know about the Manitoba Derby, but were afraid to ask

Jul 4, 2018 | ASD History, Manitoba Derby

The largest Manitoba Derby Crowd ever turned out to see Queen Elizabeth II on July 15, 1970.

The largest Manitoba Derby Crowd ever turned out to see Queen Elizabeth II on July 15, 1970.

by Bob Gates

The Manitoba Derby is a month away and what better time to look back at the history of the premiere race of the season. The 2018 edition of the Derby is the 70th running of what was once called “The Run for the Tartn.”

This week’s blog post provides an array of facts and figures and a glimpse of some highlights of Derbies past. In addition, in the weeks leading up to the August 6 race of races, each new blog story will feature a special Derby memory.

Host Track

2018 is our 61st season and the Downs has played host to the Derby ever since Jack Hardy revived the race in 1960. A quick check of the math reveals that 59 Derbies have been run at the Downs, if we include the 2018 edition. History tells us however, that 11 more Derbies were run from 1930 to 1940. Put it all together and you have 70 Derbies. Derbies from 1930 to 1940 were run at old Polo Park racetrack, apart from 1937 when it was run at Whittier Park in St. Boniface.


From 1930 to 1932 the Derby was run at a distance of one mile. From 1933 to 1940 the distance was set at 1 ¼-miles. The Derby was discontinued in 1941 in favour of the Canadian Derby. From 1960 to 1967 the distance was kept at 1 ¼-miles and from 1968 to present the distance has been 1 1/8-miles.


From 1930 to 1935 the race was restricted to 3-year-old thoroughbreds foaled in western Canada. In 1936 the Derby was opened to all 3-year-old thoroughbreds bred in Canada. In 1985 all restrictions were dropped and the race was changed to an open event for all 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

Special Derby Memories

July 15, 1970: Winner – Fanfreluche

The Manitoba Centennial Derby featured a trip from the Royal Family, and Queen Elizabeth II presented her “Queen’s Cup” to Jean-Louis Levesque, the owner of the winning horse, Fanfreluche. Fanfreluche was the first filly to win the Derby since Jack Hardy’s revival of the race in 1960. The Centennial Derby crowd of 11,127 is the largest Derby crowd in Downs history.

August 4, 1975:  Winner – L’Enjoleur

The well bred son of Fanfreluche followed in his mom’s footsteps by adding the Manitoba Derby to his list of accomplishments, but he bettered mom by also winning the Queen’s Plate. In 1970, mom only managed a second-place finish in the Plate.

September 18, 1977:  Winner – Giboulee

Giboulee was the only Manitoba Derby winner to have run in the Kentucky Derby. He ran 7th in the “Run for the Roses” and was one of 15 horses who took on Seattle Slew. Slew would go on to win America’s Triple Crown in 1977.

September 9, 1978:  Winner – Overskate

Jack Stafford’s tiny colt dominated the field winning by 13 ½-lengths, setting a track record (1:47 3/5) for the 1 1/8 -miles — a record that still stands today.

ASD 1 1/8-mile track holder Overskate goes to post for the 1978 Manitoba Derby. Robin Platts up.

ASD 1 1/8-mile track holder Overskate goes to post for the 1978 Manitoba Derby. Robin Platts up.

August 1, 2016:  Winner – Inside Straight

The big news on this Derby Day was not so much the winner of the race, but the loyal Downs supporters who wagered $1,106,999 on the card. It was the largest single day handle since the Downs opened its doors in 1958.

Best Derby Headline

The following headline appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on November 17, 1971:

’73 Manitoba Derby To Be Richest Ever

“On Saturday July 14, 1973 – the 25th running of the Manitoba Derby – racing fans will see the richest race ever run in Canada.

J. C. Hardy, president of Assiniboia Downs, announced Monday that the quarter century running of the Manitoba Derby would carry a guaranteed purse of $100,000.

…The race will see $60,000 going to the winner…”

On the same day the Toronto Star made the following pronouncement:

Plate Outpriced by Manitoba Derby

“Unless things change in the meantime, the Queen’s Plate won’t be able to call itself Canada’s richest thoroughbred horse race much longer.

…The Plate, run each June at Woodbine, usually is worth around $80,000. Of that total, $50,000 is put up by The Jockey Club and the rest is made up of nomination and eligibility payments. The winner usually collects roughly $55,000.”

Fear not, Queen’s Plate supporters’ plans were put in place and in 1973 the Plate was changed from a $50,000 race to a $75,000 added money event. The revised purse structure together with the usual payments one again secured the title of Canada’s richest horse race for the Queen’s Plate. Needless to say, all those east of the Manitoba/Ontario border slept well again!

Manitoba Derby Facts and Figures    

First Winner – Jack Whittier, owner/trainer, L. Ronald, jockey, D. Hurlburt.

Most Wins, Jockey – 3, Scott Stevens (2003, 2006, 2016) and Frank Licata (1991, 1996, 1999).

Most Wins, Trainer – 3, Gil Rowntree (1978, 1982, 1984).

Most Wins, Owner – 3, J. L. Levesque (1970, 1975, 1977).

Fastest Time – 1:47 3/5 Overskate, 1978 Manitoba Derby, new track record at Assiniboia Downs track record for 11/8-miles.

Longest-Priced Winner – $101.80 Jan Artic 1992.

Shortest-Priced Winner – $2.10 L’Enjoleur 1975.

Largest Field – 14 runners 1970.

Smallest Field – 4 runners 1937 and 1939.

No Mutuels Sold (No Betting Races) – 1937 and 1939.

Largest Margin of Victory – 14 lengths, Langcrest 1964.

Wins by Fillies – 7, 1931 Parisienne, 1932 Lady Marnock, 1933 Carhan Queen, 1935 Nellie Quince, 1936 Sweepden, 1938 Gowerlace (Manitoba Bred) and 1970 Fanfreluche.

Wins by Manitoba Breds – 3, 1938 Gowerlace, 1976 Merry’s Jay and 1993 Royal Frolic.

Largest Derby Crowd – 11,127 for the Manitoba Centennial Derby on July 15, 1970.

Who Knew 

Julie Krone became the first female rider to win the Manitoba Derby when she rode No Malice to victory in 1988.

The Manitoba Derby has been won by 2 Queen’s/King’s Plate winners – Goldlure (1937) and L’Enjoleur (1975). The overall record of the 23 winners of Manitoba Derby who appeared in the Queen’s/King’s Plate is 2 wins, 4 seconds and 5 thirds.

Last 10 Manitoba Derby Results

Date – Win, Place, Show, Time
August 7, 2017 – Plentiful, Escape Clause, Diamondmaze, 1:53.60
August 1, 2016 – Inside Straight, Ruck, Power Driven, 1:52.60
August 3, 2015 – Flashy Jewel, Witt Six, Spider’s Alibi, 1:52.80
August 4, 2014 – Street Prancer, Master Lightning, Storm Chance, 1:54.80
August 5, 2013 – Assembly Hall, Stormin Monarcho, Jon Q, 1:55.00
August 6, 2012 – Balooga Bull, Up Jumps a Monster, Pleasant Closing, 1:51.80
August 1, 2011 – Hammers Bullet, Big Blue Caboose, Gotatigerbythetail, 1:55.40
August 2, 2010 – Stachys, Cherokee’s Goal, Chief Counsel, 1:52.80
August 3, 2009 – Smuggler’s Hold, Tease the Tiger, Celtic Thane, 1:53.00
August 4, 2008 – Matt’s Broken Vow, Bonanza, Mr Exspeedient, 1:52.60

And there you have it, everything you’ve always wanted to know about the Manitoba Derby…

But were afraid to ask!

Jack Whittier, first winner of the Manitoba Derby in 1930.

Jack Whittier, first winner of the Manitoba Derby in 1930.