Antonio Whitehall, Kayla Pizarro and Rohan Singh each won twice while top trainer Jerry Gourneau sent three winners to post as the cream appears to be rising to the top at Assiniboia Downs.
As we near the midway point of 50 days of live thoroughbred racing, the jockeys are jockeying for positioning, while Gourneau is widening his lead in the trainers’ standings.
With two wins on Friday night – Mad About Grace in Race 2 and Adieu Gerald in Race 6 – plus one more on Saturday with Desert Mama in Race 2, Gourneau now leads the trainers’ ledger by 11 wins and almost $70,000.
Gourneau now has 24 wins, 20 seconds and 15 third-place finishes in 128 starts and has $200,749 in earnings. Defending champion Tom Gardipy Jr., who had one win on the weekend, is next with 13 wins and $131,509 in earnings in 118 starts. And Don Schnell is next with only 36 starts, but has 12 wins (nine seconds and a third and has finished in the money in 61 per cent of his races) and $112,856 in winnings.
Gourneau is a veteran at the Downs and one of the finest trainers’ in ASD history. In fact, he’s been in the horse racing business for most of his life. In fact, even while completing his Masters’ Degree in Education, even while spending time as a school administrator and even as an administrator for a major National Science Council Grant in the United States, Gourneau has always kept his hand in the racing industry.
These days, however, there are no more distractions. Since deciding in 2009 to leave the education profession, Gourneau, 58, is a full-time trainer and for a man who has been working in the equine game for more than 40 years, it’s never been as much fun as it is right now.
Born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reserve near Belcourt, N.D., about 170 miles southwest of the International Peace Garden, Gourneau and his family would drive to Winnipeg to watch the horses run and then drive home on the same night – three hours both ways.
“My dad, Larry Gourneau Sr., got together with my older brothers, Dave and Bill, and they bought one horse,” Gourneau explained. “He was named Sima’s Award and we bought it from Assiniboia Downs in 1972 or ’73. My dad bought it to run on the bush tracks in Pheasanton, Towner and Rugby, N.D. Belcourt didn’t even have a track back then.
“The first good horse we ever owned was L.D. Ribot. My dad and my brother Dave purchased that horse here at the Downs for $1,100. He was a stone cold winner. He’d win $15,000-$20,000 every year. We had him ‘till he was 11-years-old. When they bought that horse, I was 13 or 14 and I was working in the barn. Then, at 16, I started at Assiniboia Downs and I did everything.”
While going to school, Gourneau soaked up track life. He worked the barns, he groomed, he galloped horses and was even a jockey on the bush tracks. He’d come to Winnipeg after school ended and live in the No. 9 tack room. His first boss at the Downs was an old trainer named Burnell Rhone.
After college, he went on to university to get his Masters’ in Education. He worked his way through school by working for the family racing business, Gourneau Brothers Racing, and by hitting big bets at the Downs. In fact, he bet $100 on a horse called Crime Zone and won $2,750. It paid for more than a semester at school.
After graduating from university he went on to become a schoolteacher and later, a school administrator. Meanwhile he worked summers in the racing game. In 2009, he decided to go into the thoroughbred industry on a full-time basis.
As one of the greatest aboriginal trainers in racing history, he will head into the mid-way point of this year’s ASD meet on Friday night with a commanding lead in the trainers’ standings.
Meanwhile, as we head into the 24th day of racing in this 50-day meet, Antonio Whitehall still leads the jockey standings with 20 wins, 34 seconds and 14 thirds in 113 starts and has won $231,448 for his owners. Then there is a deadlock for second among three jocks: Tyrone Nelson is next with 15 wins, 11 seconds and 16 thirds in 83 starts and has won $177,908. Adolfo Morales has 15 wins, 10 seconds and 13 thirds in 58 mounts and has won $157,726. And Kayla Pizarro has 15 wins, six seconds and 14 thirds in 83 starts and has won $123,221. Renaldo Cumberbatch and Chavion Chow each have 13 wins while Rohan Singh has 11.
Wednesday racing returns this week. First post on Wednesday is 7:30. There is also racing on Friday and Saturday and there are some big races this weekend. On Friday night, it’s the $27,500 Jack Hardy Stakes for three-year-old fillies. It’s a seven-furlong prep for the 2018 Manitoba Oaks. Then, on Saturday, it’s the $25,000 R. C. Anderson Stakes over one mile for three-year-old Manitoba-bred fillies – and another chance to see Oaks contenders -- and the $27,500 Harry Jeffrey Derby Prep for three-year-olds over one mile.
Don’t forget, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the free VLT tournaments continue, starting at 8 p.m. each night. You can get into the draw for 10 chances to win $20 in free VLT spins. The top winner from each night participates in a month-end finale for more spins and $250 in prize money.
And every Friday and Saturday, the Downs presents $10 buy-in poker. The registration is at 8 p.m. and the game starts at 8:30 p.m.