04/28/2005 11:00PM

A crowded colony for start of meet

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba - The jockeys' room at Assiniboia Downs will be abnormally full for the eight-race opening-day card Sunday, when 22 riders are scheduled to ride.

Highlights of the 75-day meet include the $100,000 Manitoba Lotteries Derby on Aug. 1, the $65,000 Matron Breeders' Cup on Sept. 24, and the $65,000 Gold Breeders' Cup on Sept. 25. A total of $5.5 million in purses will be distributed at the meeting, a daily average of $73,300.

Jockey Travis Hightower returns to the meet in search of his third consecutive riding title here. He will face challenges from Jose Rivera, Marijo Terleski, and Felipe Valdez, all of whom rode at Portland Meadows this spring. He will also square off against Lenny Farzzita, who comes here from Beulah Park in Ohio; and Carlos Marquez and Mikhail Carmichael, both of whom will ride here for the first time.

Other new faces include Renaldo Cumberbatch, who last rode in Canada at Northlands Park three years ago, and veteran jockeys Rohan Singh and Anderson Ward, both absent during last season's meet.

Ardell Sayler returns to Assiniboia after winning leading trainer honors here in 2004. He has won the training title here five of the last six years.

After spending the last two seasons at Fort Erie, trainer Wendy Kruger has moved to Winnipeg to work for the K 5 Stables. Other trainers that should be prominent include Emile Corbel, Gary Danelson, and Carl Anderson, who should be able to make an impact in the older colts and geldings and older fillies and mares divisions.

In the older colts and geldings division Anderson currently has Lord Shogun, a winner of two Grade 3 stakes; and Indy Lead and Nugrayontheblock, both of whom are stakes-placed.

A preview of the older filly and mare division is featured in race 7 of the opening-day card, a 4 1/2-furlong allowance. Anderson will send out the one to beat in Antartida, an Argentina-bred 7-year-old who has won 4 of 8 starts.

Antartida's main competition should come from Ericka's Lass, a three-time stakes winner last year.

If all goes according to plan, Deputy Country will return to defend his titles in the R.J. Speers Stakes and Gold Breeders' Cup Stakes. Deputy Country has raced just once this year, finishing second in an allowance race on April 16 at Stampede Park in Alberta.

At a glance: Assiniboia Downs

RACING SCHEDULE: 83 days; Sunday through Sept. 25; racing Fridays through Sundays; holiday Mondays, May 23, Aug. 1, Sept. 5; and Tuesdays June 21, 28; July 5, 12, 19; Aug. 9, 16, 23

HIGHLIGHTS: $100,000 Manitoba Lotteries Derby, Aug. 1; $65,000 Matron Breeders' Cup, Sept. 24; $65,000 Gold Breeders' Cup, Sept. 25

POST TIME: 7 p.m. Central Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; 1 p.m. Sundays and Mondays, plus Saturday, May 7 and Friday, July 1

ADMISSIONS: General, free; clubhouse, $2

PARKING: General, free; clubhouse, $2

SLOTS: 140 machines, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily

LOCATION: 3975 Portage Ave., at Perimeter Hwy, Winnipeg, Man.

PHONE: (204) 885-3330; results line (204) 831-0321

INTERNET: assiniboiadowns.com