05/12/2009 11:00PM

Trio of champs clash at Assiniboia

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Three 2008 Manitoba champions will go postward in Friday's $18,000 feature for 3-year-olds and upward on the second day of the new season at Assiniboia Downs.

The Manitoba's Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association honored Monsoon Rain, top older male and horse of the year; Rock'n U S A, sprinter; and Mr Exspeedient, 3-year-old male.

They meet in Friday's five-furlong race, which is an allowance prep for the $30,000 Free Press, a six-furlong race that will be the first stakes for the division June 6.

Monsoon Rain, a 7-year-old gelding, put together a five-race Assiniboia win streak, including three stakes, before winding up his campaign on a down note at Woodbine. With trainer Martin Drexler having decamped to Ontario, Monsoon Rain now is trained by Chad Torevell and will have regular rider Carlos Marquez in the irons.

Rock'n U S A won his first five starts in Winnipeg, but was no match for Monsoon Rain when stretched out for his last two outings of the meeting. A 6-year-old gelding, Rock'n U S A is trained and partly owned by Tanya Lindsay. Three-time leading rider Alan Cuthbertson returns in the saddle.

Mr Exspeedient, a 4-year-old gelding owned and trained by Clint Willson, opened up his last campaign with a win at five furlongs and later captured the 1 1/16-mile Derby Trial. Tyrone Nelson regains the mount.

Monsoon Rain, Rock'n U S A, and Mr Exspeedient all are making their first start of the season and could be upstaged by newcomer Hurry Home Warren.

A 5-year-old gelding owned by John O'Meara and trained by Albert Blake, Hurry Home Warren showed a good turn of foot in several races for a $40,000 tag at Turfway Park this winter, the most recent coming on Jan. 3. Rocco Bowen picks up the mount.

* Last Sunday's opening-day card had an estimated crowd of more than 4,000 wagering $145,831 on the eight-race program. That figure represented an increase of 26 percent over the $115,290 wagered on last year's opening card.