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Controversial jockeys Stianson and Crawford back at Assiniboia Downs

April 16, 2010     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Ivan Biggs, Assiniboia Downs

They're ba-a-a-a-ck! Two controversial but popular jockeys are returning to ride at the Downs after prolonged absences, joining what is being described as "the toughest riding colony in 30 years."

Get ready for:

Janine Stianson, the Alberta quarter-horse riding sensation, who burst on the local scene two years ago with four winners in a row on opening day, then contested for leading jockey with Alan Cuthbertson until receiving her third penalty for "excessive use of the whip" in August.

Irritated by $1,200 in fines and hobbled by an aching back, she had left before the season ended. Fans loved her because she always gave her best.

Juan Crawford, the Barbadian jockey who made headlines in 2003 when he punched veteran jock Ken Hendricks in the jockey's room in an incident that had racist overtones and even went to court. Putting all that behind him, Crawford was granted Canadian citizenship in December (he has a Canadian wife and has three young kids born in Canada), was cleared to ride by the Jockey's Guild and now, according to his wife, Jill, wants nothing less than to become leading rider. "He has the ability," said Larry Huber, executive director of the Manitoba Racing Commission, recalling Juan's aggressive riding style.

Wow! No wonder Darren Dunn, the Downs' track announcer and operations director, says he can't recall a jockey colony that has this depth of talent, saying it could be the most competitive in 30 years. That's because last year's leading rider, Larren Delorme, is also back, as are Washington state Hall of Famer Gary Baze and his wife, Vicky, one of the top women jockeys in North America. Also returning is Rohan Singh, the leading rider before Cuthbertson dominated the local scene.

The only one who hasn't been heard from is Alan Cuthbertson, the Downs' leading rider three years in a row until last year. He said last fall he had intended to return to ride at the Downs this spring but refusing a drug test at Hastings Park in the fall has placed him in limbo. He must be reinstated by the B.C. Racing Commission before Manitoba would consider allowing him to return.

Any bets on who wins the race for leading rider? I'm leaning toward Vicky Baze because of her good instincts. She knows when to be aggressive and when to lay back. But the overall winners will be the fans who should be treated to superbly competitive riding. Opening day is Mother's Day Sunday, May 9. And down the stretch they come . . .