05/06/2011 12:32PM

Assiniboia Downs: Meet opens with new faces, wagers

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Assiniboia Downs will move into its live racing mode Sunday, with a Mother’s Day card that begins a 60-day meeting.

A total of 58 horses were entered for the eight races, and Darren Dunn, who took over the chief executive officer’s role this winter, is eager to get the season rolling.

“You always head into a live race meet with optimism,” Dunn said. “We have an exciting opening-day promotion, too, with a car giveaway.”

Dunn, however, said the most exciting development of the new year is the racetrack’s affiliation with Woodbine’s HorsePlayer Interactive wagering service. The two organizations announced the deal in late March.

“It’s going to be great to have people able to wager online, at Assiniboia, and other tracks,” Dunn said.

There will be new wagers available and new faces in the training and riding ranks this season.

New to the betting menu are a $1 pick five on races 2-6 and a $5,000-guaranteed pick four on Wednesday evenings.

Vicky Baze, last year’s leading rider, plans to compete at Canterbury, and her husband, Gary Baze, who also was in Winnipeg last year, is at Prairie Meadows.

But a number of newcomers will pick up the slack, including veterans Perry Winters, who has been based at Northlands and comes east with a total of 1,945 career winners.

Jocelyne Kenny, who has ridden in Florida, and Tim Moccasin, perennially among the leaders at Marquis Downs, are the other new journeymen on the scene.

Prayven Badrie, from Trinidad; Lance Bullock, recently of Turf Paradise; Gustav Ortiz, in from Golden Gate; and Jennifer Reid, from the Alberta “B” circuit; will begin the meeting with their apprentice allowances.

Trainers new to the Downs are Kelly Bainum and Wally Burrington, in from Phoenix; Gilbert Eccofey, lately of Fonner Park; and Bill Mooney, from the Alberta “B” circuit.

Gone are Jonathan Nance and Jack McCartney, both of whom have opted for Emerald Downs.

More than 500 horses are on the grounds, with others on their way to Winnipeg. They will be competing for more than $4.3 million in purses over the course of the meeting, which works out to a daily average of $72,000.

The Manitoba Derby again looms as the highlight of the $575,000 open stakes program, although its purse has been cut to $50,000 from $75,000 last year. A total of 28 stakes will be offered.

Racing generally will be conducted on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, supplemented by several Sunday, holiday Monday, and even a Thursday card.

There will be no racing between June 16 and June 28 as a massive ongoing federal construction project combined with the Red River Exhibition promises to make access to the racetrack extremely difficult.