05/04/2012 12:38PM

Assiniboia Downs opening with takeout slashed on pick four

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Assiniboia Downs always has billed itself as the home of the Manitoba Derby and now also will be calling itself the home of the 15-percent pick four for the 60-day meeting that opens in Winnipeg on Sunday.

Toss in a purse increase of almost 8 percent, spurred by an equivalent increase in live handle last year, and optimism was the order of the day when opening-day entries were drawn on Thursday.

“It’s an exciting time to race in Winnipeg,” said Darren Dunn, chief executive officer at Assiniboia Downs.

“The total purses for the season are over $4.8 million. The bottom purse is now $6,500, up from $5,000, and the minimum purse for most stakes has been increased from $25,000 to $30,000.”

Sunday’s 10-race card attracted a total of 57 entrants, and the pick four, with a takeout cut from 29 percent, will cover races 4 through 7.

“It’s an opportunity to reward our regular local and partner wagering patrons,” said Dunn. “It is one of our our more popular wagers, and we are keen to see the effect on our handle at season’s end.”

The $75,000 Manitoba Derby, an open 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds, will be run on the meeting’s blockbuster holiday Monday, Aug. 6, program.

Other stakes scheduled for that day are the $50,000 Assiniboia Oaks, a one-mile race for 3-year-old fillies; the $30,000 Graduation, at 5 1/2 furlongs for 2-year-olds; and the $30,000 R.J. Speers, for 3-year-olds and upward at 1 1/16 miles.

In all, 28 stakes with aggregate purses of more than $1 million over the course of the meeting, which winds up Sept. 23.

“In addition to our purse increases, we are painting the barns and completing a refresh of our first and second floors for our valued customers,” said Dunn.

Racing generally will be conducted on Fridays and Saturdays, with most Wednesdays added beginning May 30 and selected Sunday and Monday dates.

On the racetrack, there are several changes in the jockey and trainer colonies.

David Lopez, last year’s leading rider, is at Turf Paradise and currently does not plan to return to defend his title.

Newcomers will include Tyler Kaplan, who has been riding at Turf Paradise; Paul Nolan, who was active at the recent Fair Grounds meeting but now is choosing Assiniboia over his usual Canterbury Park base; Tyler Kapan, most recently of Turf Paradise; and the well-traveled Robert Reeves Jr., most recently based at Tampa Bay Downs.

Trainer Roger Hansen, who campaigned at Assiniboia in 1992, is returning after being based almost exclusively in Northern California since the late 1990s.

Wade Rarick, who has been operating on a Turf Paradise—Canterbury Park axis, also will be setting up shop in Winnipeg.