A Toast: To the Dearly Departed and Season #65!

May 25, 2022 | ASD History

Season 65 at ASD kicks off on May 31 at 7:30 p.m.

Season #65 at ASD kicks off on May 31 at 7:30 p.m.

by Bob Gates

How about a game of “Jeopardy,” Assiniboia Downs style?

Answer: September 16, 2021, to May 30, 2022.
Question: What is the “off season” for the 2021 – 2022 Downs race meets?

In case you’re wondering that’s 257 days. Whether that seems short or long depends on your perspective, but what an off season it has been.

It started with one of the worst winters in decades. Snow, snow and more snow.  Next up? Well, let’s agree that we’re still waiting for that season they call water, water and more water, I mean spring. Then our racing family was decimated by loss. Some who I knew and some who I knew of, but in our racing family a loss is just that and we we’ve been hit hard since we bid the 2021 season farewell.

Marion Dunn

Marion Dunn

Last September we lost Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn’s mother, Marion who owned a racehorse or two in the ‘80s. In October, owner/trainers, Kathi Johnson and Hazel Bochinski (mother of jockey Brian) passed. In November 2021 we learned of the death of Hugo Dittfach, who won the first ever Downs jockey title in 1958.

This March the heartache continued with the passing of handicapping regular Maurice Gregoire, owner/trainer Kenton Scramstad and of course, Manitoba Jockey Club President Harvey Warner.

By the way, Kenton was a friend and having a Scramstad as an ally is always a good thing. Sadly, the cruel off season wasn’t done with us yet. In April, regular Downs patron and father of trainer Elton Dickey, Delmar Dickey passed away.

What stands out about this group is their diversity and what they brought to the table in our horse racing community. Like it or not, we are a family. We all know it’s about horses, but it’s racing that brings us together. Maybe you don’t consider me family, but you’re all a part of mine. One big happy family?

Maybe not all the time and that’s because we are a “real” family. One who gets along, likes each other, and agrees with each other, just not all the time. Isn’t that pretty much the way most families operate?

This past offseason was the most extreme we’ve experienced in some time, and it feels like we are owed an explanation. Here’s my take-away and it comes courtesy of George Burns from the movie Oh God Book II. It may not be much, but it works.

Burns, as God, answers 11-year-old Tracy’s question about why there is so much suffering in the world:

God: I know this sounds like a cop-out, Tracy, but there’s nothing I can do about pain and suffering. It’s built into the system.
Tracy:  Which you invented.
God: Right, but my problem was I could never figure out how to build anything with just one side.
Tracy: One side?
God: Ever see a front without a back? A top without a bottom? An up without a down?
Tracy: No.
God: Then there can’t be good without bad, pleasure without pain and life without death. That’s the way it is. If I take sad away, happy has to go with it.

Harvey Warner

Harvey Warner

Like I said, this exchange might not be much, but it’s well-meaning and helps.

Moving forward, we’re all anxious to get the upcoming meet underway and put the past in the rearview mirror. On this point I’ve come to appreciate a quote from someone I respect. “Bluer skies ahead.”  Doesn’t that say it all?

Opening Day is Tuesday, May 31, and as we have all come to know, the first race of the season bears the name of the late, great trainer, Don Gray, who passed on Christmas Day 1993. This year is the 29th running of the Don Gray Memorial. Where has the time gone?

After 2 years with no fans in the stands, let’s pack the “House” on opening night. The first race goes to post at 7:30 p.m.

And that brings us to “Final Jeopardy” and the category is “Famous Life Quotes.”  Cue Jeopardy music ♫ ♫ ♫…

Answer: “Remember who you are and what you represent” is a code he lived by.
Question: Who is Harvey Warner?

Thank you Sir!  Gone but never forgotten.

Trainer Don Gray with Island Fling.

Trainer Don Gray with Island Fling.