[caution: The McChump of The North Tour was undertaken by a trained professional. Do not try this at home.]
-- Friday, June 13 --
Winner! The McChump Tour's 1997 "Podunk Track of the Year"!
Distance: 475 miles
Drive time: 8 hours
Construction zones: 5
Authority vehicles spotted: 1
Dead deer: 1
Times lost: 0
International border crossings: 1
Soon as I crossed the border, I knew I was in A Foreign Land. The speed limit signs and distances were all in kilometers, the signage was all different, the stop light poles were shaped different, the left turn arrows blinked, and I was totally confused. I mean, I know what 35 mph feels like without having to look at the speedometer, but 60 kph? My eyes were constantly glued to the speedometer, not wanting to get a speeding ticket in A Foreign Land and all, and I lived in constant fear that a member of the RCMP would pull me over, ask what I was doing in Canada, and toss me out once he learned I was there simply to [gasp] play the horses.
But the kilometers passed quickly (as kilometers will) and soon I found myself safely in the vicinity of Winnipeg, just in time for rush hour once again. But the traffic wasn't that bad, and Assiniboia Downs is easy to find, tucked off on the west edge of town near a major throughway. I found it on the first try, then set off to secure lodgings for the night and score some Canadian money from an ATM, and soon arrived back at the track with plenty of time to 'cap the evening's card before the 7:30 post time.
Parking: Free. Admission: Free. Track program: $2.25. Good seats: Free.
BONUS! BONUS! BONUS! Assiniboia has the best selection of beer and one of the best food selections of any track I've ever been to! As soon as I spied the beer coolers stocked with multiple tasty Canadian brews, many of which I'd never tried before, I knew it was going to be a great night. Beers: $3.25. Hotdog: $2.25. Ice cream: $1.75. Big soda: $2.50. (All prices Canadian, which means in reality I was getting all this stuff for 30% cheaper. Bargain.)
The Assiniboia plant itself is a medium facility, with a nice ground floor, enclosed clubhouse on the 2nd level, and open grandstand seating on the 3rd floor. The support beams on the 3rd floor are showing a little rust, but overall the place is well kept and pleasant. The track is a 6-1/2f oval with a nice infield an a fine view of the freeway in the background. And the people who work there really try to make your visit pleasant, even if you do have to get used to "aboot" and "eh?" [g]. The one bad thing was a trouble plagued PA system, that was at times pretty aggravating.
The evening's live card consisted of 8 TB events, with field sizes ranging from 4 horses (the clm18000 feature) up to 11 for a Manitoba-bred maiden claiming event. Most field sizes were decent, like 7 or 8 or 9 horses. Purses ranged from $3600 for $5k maiden 3yo fillies up to $6100 for the $18k horses, with most in the ~$4000 range. The horses came from everywhere: Manitoba-breds, and horses from Pimlico, quite a few from Turf Paradise, some from Emerald Downs and Portland Meadows, the occasional BM escapee, quite a few from other Canadian tracks, and the most, of course, regular Assiniboia residents. One horse running in a maiden event had already won a MdSpWt event at "an unrecognized racetrack, Fort Pierre (?)", and he went on to win this night's event as well. The Turf Paradise horses didn't run anywhere near their TuP Beyers at Asd, lending even more weight to my belief that the Beyers at certain western U.S. tracks are inflated.
DOUBLE BONUS! For those who want ever more information about the horses, equipment changes like "shadow roll on" and "tongue tie on/off" were announced. You tell me what those mean. Although the "tongue tie on" horse did win his race.
Two big things I noticed right off. First was the near total lack of automated betting machines (there was one on the first floor, and one on the third). I asked one of the mutuel clerks about it, and he said people just don't like them. As I saw no one else using the machine, I decided not to make a spectacle of myself, and went with the live tellers for the evening. The other thing was the saddlecloth color situation: all saddlecloths were black, but the jocks wore color coded silks. Must save the owners of Manitoba a bundle.
Betting wise, I didn't do so great at Asd. Maybe because of all those tasty beers, but I just couldn't cash anything but minor tickets to save my life. Speed was holding in a big way, and I was always picking the wrong speed horse. My big score of the evening came in the 4 horse race, when I stood up on the one horse of the bunch that looked like a bonafide sprinter, and was rewarded with a $5.40 payoff for my trouble, making up about 2/3 of what I had lost. I skipped the last race of the evening, but shouldn't have - 10 horses went to post in a very contentious field, all with payoffs above $9.00 (oh yeah I forgot to mention they didn't show odds on the tote, rather the likely win payoffs), and my "imaginary horse" in that race came in 2nd with a nice place payoff. Oh well.
As on the night before, I wasn't sure where the purse money was coming from, as the mutuel pools were small. 970/543/354 WPS in the first race, up to 1368/779/621 WPS and 837/983 Ex/Q in the 6th. The last race had the biggest pools, but I didn't write those down.
Assiniboia Downs also gets a big McChump Tour thumbs up as a fun place to visit, and one that treated the regular chump sort of a patron well.
The Holiday Inn Airport West gets big bonus points for having circular aquariums with goldfish in them embedded in the elevator walls.