05/03/2013 3:00PM

Assiniboia Downs: 60-day meeting begins with uncertainty


A climate of uncertainty surrounds Sunday’s opening of the 2013 Assiniboia Downs meeting, with the racetrack in the midst of court action against the provincial government and the province having slashed the racetrack’s projected funding in its recent budget.

The Manitoba Jockey Club owns and operates Assiniboia Downs, which is on 130 acres within the grounds of Red River Exhibition Park, which is owned by the Red River Exhibition Association.

The MJC alleges that Red River was using improper measures with the aid of the province in a bid to take over the racetrack and its real estate assets. The racetrack was granted a judicial review, and a decision is expected Monday.

On April 16, Manitoba finance minister Stan Struthers slashed $5 million from the budget of Assiniboia Downs, more than half the amount that the racetrack had been receiving from slot revenue and a rebate in the province’s levy on parimutuel wagering.

“Our company requested the specifics of what will be cut from where and a time frame, but no answer was provided,” said Darren Dunn, chief executive officer at Assiniboia Downs.

Dunn said the amount the racetrack receives from its share of 140 video lottery terminals operated by the province at the facility is protected by a confidentially agreement. Last year, the track received $1.8 million for the purse account, its share of the province’s levy on the wagering.

On Sunday afternoon, 56 horses are scheduled to go postward in the opening card, the first of 60 at the meeting. First post is 1:30 p.m.

Some 600 horses are on the grounds, with another 100 expected soon. Assiniboia Downs will run Friday and Saturday evenings, with Wednesday racing beginning May 29.

There will be additional Sunday afternoon programs on Mother’s Day, May 12; Father’s Day, June 16; and closing day, Sept. 22. Holiday Monday cards are scheduled for July 1, Aug. 5, and Sept. 2, all to begin at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday cards start at 7:30 p.m.

There will be no racing on the Wednesdays following the Sunday and holiday Monday programs and on the Wednesday preceding the Aug. 5 Manitoba Lotteries Derby, which heads four stakes on the biggest day of the meeting.

The 28-race stakes program offers a guaranteed total of just less than $1 million. Total purses will be approximately $4.7 million for a daily average of approximately $78,000.

Paul Nolan and Jennifer Reid, 1-2 in a very tight jockey’s race last year, will be renewing their rivalry and appear to have several live mounts on opening day.

There will be several new faces in the jockeys’ room, with journeymen Ricardo Jaime, Adolfo Morales, and Jose Rivera Jr., and apprentices Tori Gandia, Marcus Swiontek, and Skyler Whiteshield all moving here from points south of the border.

There will be a change in the wagering menu, with a Super High Five on the last race each day.

Dunn, who has been the track announcer for 25 years, will hang up his microphone to concentrate on the CEO duties he assumed in 2011. Kirt Contois, longtime backup announcer and former paddock host, will be the new track announcer.