M&M’s: Sweet Treats for the Soul

Jun 2, 2022 | ASD History

Coherence. August 29, 1959. Trainer Gary Danelson's first win.

Coherence. August 29, 1959. Trainer Gary Danelson’s first win.

by Bob Gates

Well, now that we have a couple of days of racing under our belt, let’s celebrate with some M&M’s.

Nope, not the multi-coloured, button-shaped chocolates which are the flagship product of Mars, Incorporated. We’re talking about milestones and memories courtesy of our local horse racing history.

Buckle-up friends and ready yourself for our trip down “Memory Lane.”

1937 – 85 years ago: Henry and Hazel Danelson welcomed their only child, Henry “Gary” Danelson into the world on August 28. Fast forward to August 29, 1959, when young Gary won his first race at Assiniboia Downs. Fast forward again to May 26, 2001, when Gary saddled winner #880 to become the Downs all-time leading trainer.

Assiniboia Downs has been in operation for eight decades and Gary has been here for every one of them, notwithstanding the global pandemic of 2020 and 2021. He was not present in 2020, but once the border reopened last year, he made it up to Winnipeg again, and this year he’s back training for the Downs 65th season. August 28 will mark Gary’s 85th birthday, be sure to wish the man from Scobey, Montana a very happy birthday. He’d like that!

1942 – 80 years ago: Whittier Park held its final race meet. Going into the 1942 season concern existed about the ability to put on a meet at the St. Boniface track. These fears were based on Winnipeg Transit’s efforts to comply with gas and rubber rationing restrictions put in place by the federal department in charge of the war effort. The transportation challenges, while met in 1942, posed significant obstacles the following year and resulted in the Manitoba Jockey Club obtaining permission from the Province to join forces with the Winnipeg Jockey Club, to put on a combined meet at Polo Park racetrack in 1943.

Whittier Park. June 2, 1925. Spring Meet.

Whittier Park. June 2, 1925. Spring Meet.


1967 – 55 years ago: On June 3, the star of the show for the season opener was not a horse, owner, jockey or trainer. It was the newly glassed-in Assiniboia Downs Turf Club and main floor grandstand area.

1972 – 50 years ago: On August 6, for the first time in Manitoba’s history, thoroughbred horse racing was conducted on a Sunday.

Clayton Gray won his second of seven Downs leading trainer titles (1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1979, 1980). Clayton was the second trainer to reach the 200-win plateau (Bob Watt was the first). He was also the first Downs conditioner to win 300 and 400 races. When he left to ply his trade south of the border from 1981 to 2002, he was the Downs all-time leading trainer with over 400 wins, a mark that would stand until 1983. Clayton closed out his career in 2012 with 600 lifetime wins at the Downs.

1977 – 45 years ago: Don Gray won his second of three Downs training titles (1975, 1977, 1978) and became the Downs all-time leading trainer on July 12, 1983, when he recorded win #453. Don would go on to win 879 races here, before his untimely passing in 1993. Don’s 879 victories stood the test of time until Gary Danelson scored win #880 in 2001.

Don's Mistake. September 8, 1958. Trainers Clayton and Don Gray in plaid shirts. Don holding Don's Mistake.

Don’s Mistake. September 8, 1958. Trainers Clayton and Don Gray in plaid shirts. Don holding Don’s Mistake.

1992 – 30 years ago: On June 28, jockey Larry Bird rode Egyptian Jewel to victory and in doing so claimed win #1,000 for himself at the Downs. At the time, only Ken Hendricks had ridden more winners.

1997 – 25 years ago: On October 2, jockey Tim Gardiner scored Downs win #1,000 when he rode Gary Danelson’s Norm’s Royalty to victory.

2002 – 20 years ago:  Trainer Ardell Sayler won his 5th Downs leading trainer title (1994, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002). He would add 7 more (2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014) for a total of 12 Downs training titles – a record!

2007 – 15 years ago: On August 6, Miss Missile won the Debutante Stakes for Charlie Smith and Terry Propps. It was their first of five straight Debutante victories: Miss Missile (2007) Lady Countdown (2008), Ruby’s Big Band (2009), Little Widow Maker (2010) and Gospel Gal (2011).

2012 – 10 years ago: On June 19, Downs patriarch, Albert Edward “Bert” Blake passed away, 10 days shy of his 93rd birthday. Blake won the Manitoba Derby twice with Royal Frolic (1993) and Prime Time TV (2005) and narrowly missed winning two others with Shanghied (2004) and The Max (2006). Blake was an institution in these parts and the Downs was a better place because he raced here.

Young "Bert Blake with his pony, Danny Boy.

Young “Bert Blake with his pony, Danny Boy.

Balooga Bull won the Manitoba Derby in style. It was trainer Ardell Sayler’s only win in the Derby. The Bull also went on to win the prestigious Gold Cup that year – quite a feat for a 3-year-old. To prove it was no fluke, he won the Cup as a 4- and 5-year-old. Bull remains the only horse to ever win the Gold Cup in three consecutive years.

Regina-born, 39-year-old, Shelley Brown became the first female to win the Downs leading trainer title.

How’s that for racing through time!?

As we close out our second blog story of the 2022 season, how about some food for thought?

Time and time again people tell me of their introduction to horse racing at Assiniboia Downs. They speak of a time long ago when they accompanied their parents, an aunt, uncle, or grandparents to the track located on Portage Avenue, just outside the Perimeter Highway.

Do you get out to the track as much as you would like to these days? Why not rekindle some memories of a more innocent time, but not just for yourself. How about bringing company with you, a son, daughter, brother, sister, niece, nephew, or the grandchildren, and giving them something to remember, something they too can hand-down to future generations.

We owe it to ourselves and others to share fond memories of that special time at the place where “horsing around” is not only permitted but encouraged.

Milestones and memories are where it’s at, and besides, they have fewer calories than M&M’s. Like they say, “spring has sprung and the grass has riz,” we know where the memories is…

At Assiniboia Downs!