Introducing horse racing to Saskatchewan was not exactly a smooth and easy process. Between gaining Government approval, competing entertainment and building a professional track, Marquis Downs was not an overnight endeavour. Step back in time and discover how Marquis Downs became the destination Saskatoonians know and love.
Horse racing started in Saskatchewan as a main source of entertainment of the early fairs. While It is unclear when the races exactly began; one source states that in 1884 at the first Saskatoon Exhibition there were trotting races with prizes. By 1907 the horse races had become a highlight of the Exhibition for many people, not only because they liked to watch horses but also because they liked to bet. However, at that time, the Government had not given grants to any fairs in the province where open pool selling or betting was allowed on the grounds. It was not actually until 1912 that open betting at the horse races was permitted, and later that year, due to changes in provincial legislation, the Exhibition had been empowered to lease pari-mutuel machines and granted space to licenced bookmakers.
Although horse racing was finding success in Saskatchewan, automobile racing started to infringe as competition for fair-goers attention. The first mention of automobile racing was in 1911. A show in 1913 declared “as there are half a dozen car owners in the city who have been boasting for the past six months of the respective merits of their respective motors; it is expected that a sensational race will be witnessed.”
If competition wasn’t challenging enough, in 1917, betting was abolished altogether. As a compensation for the elimination of betting, the Exhibition introduced the ‘Mule Derby’ to the normal horse racing program—a mule race between mounted exhibition and civic dignitaries. Despite all the challenges, horse racing survived and on July 14, 1969 Marquis Downs officially opened to the public. It opened merely six months after the consulting engineer’s commenced design of the project.
The track is a five-eighths mile oval with two chutes. The width of the track is 90 feet and the homestretch length is 660 feet. The grandstand has a seating capacity of approximately 3,200 and a stabling capacity of 650. A record attendance of 4,294 was attained on August 13, 1971 and on August 14, 1982 a wagering record of $261,169 was set.
In the early days of horse racing in Saskatchewan, Marquis Downs in Saskatoon and Queensbury Downs in Regina were set to open for only 2-3 weeks each summer. In the 1980s, the horse racing industry expanded exponentially, providing over 100 days of racing entertainment throughout the summer months. At this time, horse race betting was the only legalized form of gambling in the province. The racing schedule has changed significantly over the past years, and today Marquis Downs runs for 25 race days between June to September.
An annual event and a favourite to this day – the Saskatchewan Derby was first run in 1961. It is the oldest, continuously run stakes race in the province. Many of Western Canada’s finest three year olds have traveled to Marquis Downs to compete in this prestigious race each year. Still a crowd favourite, the Saskatchewan Derby is consistently the most popular weekend of the Marquis Downs schedule. This year the Derby falls on September 9th. It marks the end of the racing season at Marquis Downs, and is a celebration night for all!
During the off season at Marquis Downs, the staff are hard at work planning for the next year and making changes to ensure that Marquis Downs always provides the highest quality entertainment. In recent years, changes have been made to improve the structure of the track and surrounding buildings and barns. The race track was resurfaced in 2014, and the barns continue to be renovated.
Looking ahead to the 2017 race season, there is sure to be plenty of excitement and action! Best of luck in all your bets and enjoy the races!