05/08/2009 12:00AM

Schedule shift, stakes cuts at Assiniboia

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Winnipeg's Assiniboia Downs opens with its only Sunday program of the meet. Assiniboia is replacing its Sunday cards with Wednesday evenings, exchanging a crowded afternoon on the simulcast schedule with a weekday that it hopes will attract more simulcast dollars.

Early returns suggest the move will be successful, as several new outlets, including Woodbine, have signed on for the Wednesday simulcasts.

Assiniboia's opening-day card will begin at 1:15 p.m. and comprises eight races with a respectable total of 64 entrants.

Purses for several open stakes races have been reduced from $50,000 to $30,000 and the Derby Trial, the longtime prep for the Manitoba Derby, has been dropped from the schedule.

Racing secretary Ray Miller has tweaked the stakes schedule to situate the 1 1/16-mile Harry Jeffrey on July 11 as the major local stakes stepping-stone to the Aug. 3 Manitoba Lotteries Derby, the perennial highlight of the Assiniboia meeting. The Manitoba Derby purse this year will be $75,000, down from $100,000.

Miller has 945 stalls to work with for the 65-day meeting, down five days from last year in a move to reduce operating costs.

"We're filling up fast," said Miller.

Following Sunday's card, Assiniboia will race on a Friday-Saturday-Wednesday schedule. Tuesdays will be added from June 9 through July 28 and there will be afternoon holiday Monday racing on May 18, Aug. 3, and Sept. 7.

Wednesday, July 1, is Canada Day and will feature a special 1 p.m. post time.

There will be a number of new faces here this year in both the jockey and trainer colonies.

Gary Baze, Washington's all-time leading rider, has moved his tack to Assiniboia and is expected to be joined by his wife Vicky Baze, the former Vicky Aragon.

Other new riders include Argelio Velazquez, a Fonner Park regular over the past few seasons; Mike Iammarino, an Alberta veteran who has been racing at Turf Paradise; and Patrick Henry Jr., who is from Jamaica.

"We have a decent colony here, about 22 riders," said Miller.

Missing this year will be Janine Stianson, Canada's Sovereign Award-winning apprentice last season, who departed abruptly last summer.

Well-traveled trainer Don Schnell, who most recently has been racing at Turf Paradise and Prairie Meadows, is setting up shop at Assiniboia and appears to have several live runners on the opening-day program. Schnell, along with fellow newcomers Dale Bagnell and Terry Roberts, has a dozen stalls.

Marty Drexler, Assiniboia's leading trainer in 2007 and third in the standings last year, has decamped to Woodbine and much of his local stock will be taken over by Tanya Lindsay. An exception is Moonson Rain, a Manitoba champion last year for Drexler and owner Larry Carter, who will be trained by Chad Torevell.