The History of the Manitoba Derby in Photos

Jul 29, 2022 | ASD History

Royal Frolic with Larry Bird up after winning the 45th running of the Manitoba Derby. August 2, 1993.

Royal Frolic with Larry Bird up after winning the 45th running of the Manitoba Derby. August 2, 1993.

by Bob Gates

A few weeks ago we tried something different. The traditional blog story was replaced by an array of photos complete with captions and it turns out, you liked it!

With our Manitoba Derby going to post Monday, August 1 let’s give the photo story idea another go. Here are seven Derby photos, one for each decade that the race has been run at Assiniboia Downs.

Yes, there will even be the customary “Bonus” photo that will pay tribute to the first 11 years of the classic from 1930 to 1940.

Photo #1 – Bocage
August 13, 1960 – 12th Running

In 1960 Jack Hardy revived the Manitoba Derby after a 20-year absence. Two weeks before the race his J. Y. Stable didn’t have a horse to run in the Derby. So he went out and bought Bocage, who turned out to be a good buy. You’ll notice that Jack isn’t in the win photo. He had no problems with running his horses at the track he built and owned, but he was shy about getting his picture taken in the winner’s circle. Bocage came by his talent on the racetrack honestly. His mom, Victory Gift, won the 1948 Canadian Derby, and his grandmother Omar’s Gift was the “37-cent filly” that Scotty Kennedy bought from Jim Speers, who won the 1942 Winnipeg Futurity. (Assiniboia Downs Historical Photo)

Photo #2 – Overskate
September 9, 1978 – 30th Running

On this day, “tiny” Overskate (look at the difference in size relative to his pony) was flawless and spanked a field of five competitors. The chestnut colt was widely considered the best 3-year-old in Canada going into our Derby. It was all jockey Robin Platts could do to hold the margin of victory to 13 1/2-lengths. The race was over before they had gone six furlongs. At that point his opposition should have tossed in the towel, headed back to the barn and saved themselves for another day. The star of the Stafford Farms stable eclipsed the track record set by Speedy Zephyr in 1971.  His time for the 1 1/8-mile distance was 1:47 3/5, mark that still stands today. (Gerry Hart Photo)

Photo #3 – Regimen
August 2, 1981 – 33rd Running

This chestnut colt gave Western Canada its third consecutive victory in the Manitoba Derby following wins by Easter’s Memory in 1979 and Country Free in 1980. Regimen was a June purchase by Barbara Rausch and his share of the Derby purse ($47,010) went a long way of covering his purchase price. A Derby Day crowd of 7,194 witnessed Regimen’s victory and wagered a (then) record one-day total of $636,114. (Gerry Hart Photo)

Photo #4 – Royal Frolic
August 2, 1993 – 45th Running

Royal Frolic’s Derby win matched the feat of Merry’s Jay in 1976. The talented pair were the only Manitoba-breds to win the Derby since it had been run at the Downs.  The runner-up, Run Dance was owned by Lorraine McGill, the daughter of Hugh Jackson, who owned Merry’s Jay. Royal Frolic’s Derby win was a repeat of the Derby Trial, which saw trainer Bert Blake’s charge edge Run Dance in a photo finish, but no cameras were needed for his Derby Day win of 2 1/2-lengths. (Gerry Hart Photo)

Photo #5 – Prime Time T.V.
August 1, 2005 – 57th Running

Prime Time had a couple of off-races going into the Derby and punters shied away.  Instead of being the even-money favourite, he went off at odds of 3-1.  The son of Deputy Minister put on a clinic in his Derby appearance. After spotting the leader 15 lengths, he made one of the most spectacular last to first moves you’re ever likely to see. Jockey Travis Hightower took his mount eight-wide and blew by them all to win by 11 lengths and paid a tidy $8.10. (Gerry Hart Photo)

Photo #6 – Balooga Bull
August 6, 2012 – 64th Running

Balooga Bull was one of the best horses ever to run at the Downs. Going into the Derby prep, the Harry Jeffrey Stakes, “The Bull” was undefeated in six lifetime starts, but he had yet to go two turns. His resulting loss in the Jeffrey suggested he might be vulnerable in longer races. On Derby Day he proved his loss in the Derby prep was a one-off, but the betting public was skeptical. The Derby saw him go postward as the second betting choice at odds of 6-1. He proved them all wrong with a thrilling gate to wire performance, drawing away to win by almost 10 lengths and paying a handsome $14.30 to win. (Allan Besson Photo)

Photo #7 – Real Grace
August 3, 2020 – 72nd Running

Our penultimate Derby photo does not feature the official winner, Mongolian Wind.  Above we have dark bay gelding and really good-looking boy, Real Grace. This son of Mineshaft didn’t have the best race of his life that day. His Derby trip was less than ideal and he just didn’t have it. However, a few short weeks later, Real Grace put it all together for trainer Shelley Brown and owners Jean McEwan, Bette Holtman and Bernell Rhone, squeaking out a front-running victory in the Canadian Derby in Edmonton. (Jason Halstead Photo)

Photo #8 – Bonus Photo
Jack Whittier: September 3, 1930 – 1st Running

Your bonus photo this time around is the winner of the first Manitoba “Derby.”  The first Derby was run in 1930, but from 1930 to 1933 it was known as the Manitoba Stakes. In 1934 the name of the race was officially changed to the Manitoba Derby. Jim Speers established the race for horsemen in an effort to showcase thoroughbreds that were foaled in Western Canada. In 1936 the Derby was opened to all horses bred in Canada. The race was run annually at old Polo Park racetrack in all years except 1937, when it was run at Whittier Park in St. Boniface. In 1941 the Canadian Derby was born out of our own Manitoba Derby. (Winnipeg Free Press Photo)


Well that’s it for this week, I hope you enjoyed our Manitoba Derby photo extravaganza. Don’t forget the Derby goes Monday, August 1st, we’ll see you there.

I will be on hand with my traditional Manitoba Derby photo display. In addition, there will be a special “Assiniboia Downs Remembers” Polo Park display featuring original memorabilia from old Polo Park. Be sure to drop by and see what we have for you!

Next week we return to our more traditional storytelling “Tales from Assiniboia.”

Happy Manitoba Derby everyone!