They’re Baaack!

May 17, 2024 | ASD History

By Track Historian Bob Gates

The 150th Running of the Kentucky Derby – check. Mothers’ Day Brunch at the Downs – check.  So now you know live racing at our Portage Avenue track is just around the corner. Throw in a surprise telephone call from long-since retired Clayton Gray that tempts your palate, and our first day of live thoroughbred horse racing at Assiniboia Downs can’t get here soon enough.


What will the 2024 season have in store for us?  More fox hi-jinx perhaps?

A Toast to Our Dearly Departed

Before going any further, we need to acknowledge that not all of our “family” is still with us as the Downs welcomes its 67th season. The list of those we lost seems longer than usual and includes: Tommy Adkins, Marie-Rose Antoine, David Blake, Valerie Brown, Connie Clausson, Jim Farrell, Jim Heighton, Dale Keast, Jean McEwen, Shaun Morin, George Pirie, Rosemarie Pollock, Iris Wedge, and Lynn and Marie White.

Last November our North American horse racing family saw the passing of 17-year-old Cody Dorman, whose bond with champion Cody’s Wish touched souls everywhere. On the equine front Jan Melnychuk lost her heart-horse “Faith” (Desperate Measures) late last spring. Our hearts and sincere sympathies go out to the family and friends of those we lost. You will all be missed!

 Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory. – Dr. Seuss

How about a quick look back at opening day record-setting rides of the past? You have to love the prominent role played by the ladies. On May 16, 1969, female pioneer jockey, 19-year-old Barbara Jo Rubin made a special appearance at the Downs and became the first female rider to win a race here, and her victory came in the first race of the year. The horse? Maureen Deb, of course.

On May 4, 1984, 22-year-old Vickie Warhol set the track on fire when she rode five winners (Intrepid Eagle, Nareba, Robin’s Hawk, Dails Ahoy, and Inflated) on the opening day nine-race card. In 2008, when the Downs celebrated its 50th Anniversary, 25-year-old jockey Janine Stianson won the first four races on opening day. Who remembers Cascadian Buck, Valid Dreams, Gone Stylin, and Punchmeoutabuck?


Maureen Deb


The first race of the season is always the Don Gray Memorial, with a 7:30 p.m. post time. Following the race, as the connections gather to celebrate the winning horse, how about we pause to remember Don and some of his fellow trainers who are no longer with us.

One of the hardest working crews in horse racing has everything in place for Victoria Day Monday’s May 20th opening at Assiniboia Downs. It looks like another exciting year of racing awaits with a stakes race calendar that features: 

  • 5th Running of the Escape Clause
  • 30th Running of the Derby Trial
  • 35th Running of the Debutante
  • 40th Running of the La Verendrye
  • 45th Running of the Graduation
  • 55th Running of the J. W. Sifton Memorial
  • 65th Running of the Harvey Warner Manitoba Mile Memorial
  • 65th Running of the R. J. Speers Memorial
  • 95th Running of the Winnipeg Futurity

 Manitoba Jockey Club News: As you are all probably aware of by now, Dr. Norm Elder was elected to the role of Manitoba Jockey Club Board Chair, and Darrell Stephansson was elected to the role of Vice Chair. We would all like to thank Jeff Goy for his 10 years of MJC Board service including 11/2 years as the interim Chair following the untimely passing of Harvey Warner.    

 In addition, our hardiest congratulations go out to track photographer Jason Halstead, who was honoured with the 2023 Sovereign Award for Outstanding Photograph in Canadian horse racing.


Jason Halstead’s Sovereign Award-Winning photo


Well, that’s what we have for you this week. There’s an entire season of racing ahead of us to enjoy and lots of history to share. Please remember, the first race of the 2024 season goes Monday, May 20th. Post Time 7:30 p.m. 

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz.

We know where the horseys is.

See you at the track!

“Every sunset is an opportunity to reset.  Every sunrise begins with new eyes.” Author Richie Norton