Three big Sunday races at Little Irish Downs

Harness racing to run on Sunday, August 6, 13, and 27


Making it one big day of racing – instead of two – could make harness racing a more popular draw this summer.

Darryl Mason, local Standardbred horse trainer and racer, and president of the Manitoba Great Western Harness Racing Circuit, thinks it could be a good thing.

This summer the Little Irish Downs will be hosting three Sundays of harness racing at the Ag Grounds, on August 6, 13, plus an extra one on August 27, instead of the usual two weekends.

“There are a couple of reasons we are not having two days of races,” he said. “One is that we are short of horses. The second is that our funding is reduced, because of the decrease in the pari-mutuel levy, which is collected by the Manitoba government on every dollar wager on horse racing in Manitoba.”

Little Irish Downs used to host two weekend days, running six or seven races per day.

Going over to just a Sunday event means the number of races will increase, and hopefully so will the crowd up in the stands.

And it’s already happened in one other community, as racing season gets underway this year.

“Every track in the province is going to one-day events this summer,” said Mason. “The first races in the province were held at Miami on June 9, for just one day, and the crowd there was two or three times bigger than usual. Maybe it was because they were getting two days’ crowds coming on the one day. Now we will be having 10 or 11 races here (in Killarney) on a Sunday, on one big race day. We usually see around 450 people a day, and I would like to see a thousand people come out. ”

Racing will still begin at 1:30 p.m., but it will run longer, he added, giving race goers more bang for their bucks.

“We used to finish at around 4 p.m. Now it will go to 5 p.m.,” he said. “It’s a little harder on the participants, because they have to race all their horses on one day. But we are optimistic that everyone will come out a winner. Now if someone misses the first couple of races, hopefully they will still turn up, because there are more races running in the day.”

And Mason stressed that it was not all about betting on horses.

“It’s really family-friendly,” he said. “You can make a little wager, or just enjoy the beautiful horses, and the drivers on the sulkies. And the $3 that people pay to just come in and enjoy the races all helps.”

That’s because the Manitoba Great Western Harness Racing Circuit relies on the government levy pay-out in order to keep the tradition of harness racing on track, he said.

“We are pretty much totally dependant on this funding,” said Mason. “Simply put, if more people bet at Assiniboine Downs in Winnipeg, and at small tracks like Killarney, then harness racing can continue, and hopefully expand.”

Switching to Sunday racing also makes it less work on organizers, he added.

“It will be easier to get a volunteer for one day,” said Mason. “Plus volunteers on Sunday are also easier to get than volunteers on a Saturday. It takes 20 volunteers to make it all happen.”

This will be the second year for race goers to enjoy the new betting booth and concession building next to the track.

“We also have the new washrooms, a comfortable place to bet, and you can eat lunch here,” said Mason.

Darryl Mason operates Heartland Standardbreds north of Killarney with his wife, Sherri.

The Mason family has been involved with harness racing since its beginning 41 years ago in Killarney, back in 1976, he said.

He is also a top driver in the province, who regularly wins big prizes.

And like all the racers, he sports his own colours.

So if you make it over to the Little Irish Downs this summer, look for him driving a sulky – clad in burgundy, blue, and grey. He might well be the winner.

MASON ON THE INSIDE – Clad in his signature colours of burgundy, blue, and grey, Killarney’s Darryl Mason rounds the final turn in a harness race last summer held at the Little Irish Downs. This year racing will take place on three Sundays – August 6, 13, and 27 – from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.