05/02/2007 11:00PM

Saylor faces challenge

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Two new faces and one old face will likely have a major impact on the 2007 Assiniboia Downs meet, which opens Saturday.

Trainers Jonathan Nance and Jim Ferguson, the top two trainers at Portland Meadows this past winter, both will run horses locally for the first time and should challenge perennial leading trainer Ardell Sayler for the top spot.

Veteran trainers Carl Anderson, Tom Gardipy Jr., Emile Corbel, and Clay Brinson can also be expected to produce solid numbers.

Becky Welch, the leading percentage trainer here last season in her rookie year, will look to continue her success, and Martin Drexler will try for another solid season after a breakout year in 2006.

Travis Dunkelberger, one the top riders in Maryland and West Virginia over the past decade, returns to Assiniboia Downs for the first time since 1994.

Dunkelberger should challenge for the leading rider title, along with 2006 leading rider Alan Cuthbertson, runner-up Rohan Singh, apprentice Kirk Johnson, and Mark Anderson.

Most stakes valued at $40,000 last season have been increased to $45,000 to meet the minimum requirements for black-type status.

Several stakes have been reduced to $30,000 from $40,000 last season to help balance the increases.

The Assiniboia Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and Debutante Stakes for 2-year-old fillies have been moved to Aug. 6 to compliment the $100,000 Manitoba Derby along with the Wheat City Stakes for older horses.

The Winnipeg Futurity, run as a six-furlong race on the Manitoba Derby undercard the past five years, will be returned to its original distance of one mile and run in its former spot on the final day of racing, which this year will be Sept. 24.

Four new competitors, including two 3-year-old fillies, will take on last season's top local older mare, Remiewaterbluz in the opening-day feature, a five-furlong allowance race worth $20,000.