A brief history of
The Prestigious Saskatchewan Derby
The front-page headline of The Leader-Post on Friday, August 4, 1961 read, “Douglas Takes Over Leadership.” The night before, then-premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas, won the battle to become the first leader of the federal New Democratic Party in Ottawa. For those in Regina not interested in politics, the Army & Navy Department Store had a week-long sale celebrating the festivities of the Provincial Exhibition with their 88c Days.
Horse racing fans, however, were poised to witness history-in-the-making the very next afternoon, with the inaugural running of the Saskatchewan Derby, at the Regina Exhibition grounds. The day turned out to be a real scorcher, so betters made their picks quickly and retreated to the shaded stands to wait for the 9-horse field to take to the track.
Once the race was underway, after one false start, it was a one-horse show. Calgary ship-in, Sir Demijohn, ridden by jockey Don Ross, took an early lead and was never threatened during the 1-1/16 mile race, taking the win by nine lengths. In the Winner’s Circle, Mrs. Jack Pearl, the wife of the Exhibition president, congratulated co-owner, Chris Bro, on his win at the event’s debut. That baptismal day kick-started the long-standing Saskatchewan tradition of the annual running of the Saskatchewan Derby, a ritual still practiced to this day.
When times in the racing industry got tough in the mid-’80s, Regina’s Exhibition Track suffered several hits to its operation. In 1984, the Derby lost its title sponsorship, which precipitated a drop in the purse from $15,000 down to $10k. After the 25th running of the Derby in 1985, that city’s most durable and popular sports facility, for over 80 years, was demolished to make room for a $10 million expansion project. Officials felt certain they would be able to secure a new sponsor the following year, but that wasn’t in the cards.
For its first 28 years, the Derby mainly stayed put in Regina, with three exceptions when it was run in Saskatoon (1975,1982 & 1987). Regina’s new facility, Queensbury Downs, was only destined to host the event one time, in 1988, before the Derby’s permanent home shifted to Marquis Downs in 1989, where it has run continuously ever since.