Paul Nolan


He was known first as the Turf Doctor and later as the Sod Surgeon but given a choice there was no doubt that he preferred the latter.

“Surgeons make more than doctors,’’ Paul Nolan said with a grin Saturday night, discussing the past in the jockeys lounge.

Yes, Paul Nolan, the champion rider at Canterbury Park in 2006, winner of the $150,000 Lady Canterbury in 1997, one of the best grass riders in Shakopee during a time and before that regarded for his ability to win aboard longshots.

It was aboard one of those longshots, the redoubtable KZ Bay, that Nolan got the career boost he was hoping for with that stunning Lady Canterbury win.

“Everyone has one special horse in their life that makes a difference,’’ Nolan said. “KZ Bay was mine. She turned things around, jump-started my career.’’

KZ Bay and Nolan found a place in the hearts of Minnesota racing fans that day, as well as those gathered at trainer Bob Ryno’s home hangout in Wood. S.D.

As friends of Ryno’s gathered to watch the race via satellite at their favorite watering hole, one of them put his head through the ceiling while jumping up and down on a table during the stretch run.

If everyone has a special horse, many riders have something that hovers over them like a Mesozoic-era albatross, and Nolan had his in 2010. “The accident,’’ he said, softly. “The one that hurt Scott (Stevens) so badly.’’

It happened on the runway, the stretch at Canterbury Park, a pileup that sent Stevens to the emergency ward via helicopter and Nolan to the hospital himself with broken bones in his back, an accident that sidelined him for the next 10 months.

By the time he returned in 2011, the meet was under way and trainers had already settled on their riders or were reluctant to use someone working himself into racing condition. He didn’t regain the touch and considered retirement.

Nobody actually said it but in his imagination the words were loud and clear. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. He was at a low point, not riding with the same authority he had before the accident the previous year, or at least perceived that way.

“Yeah, and there was a guy spreading things about me,’’ he recalled Saturday night. Nolan was imagining what retirement might hold when he got a call asking if he would gallop for Mike Stidham at the Fair Grounds. He took the job and in no time at all was riding again.

In the time since he won two riding titles at Assiniboia Downs and another at Houston. As if to prove he still has the old touch aboard the longshots, Nolan brought in a horse named Uncle Lott at Lone Star Park two weeks ago that paid $105.

Yet, Canterbury is where he got the career jumpstart he needed, where he rode the 1000th winner of his career. Now he is back for the remainder of the meet at Canterbury Park, within a few minutes of his home in Bloomington. Naturally, his wife, Sherry, is pleased to have him home. Right? “Well the grass gets mowed,’’ Nolan added with another wry grin. “The cats looked at me like who the hell are you.’’

Nonetheless, Nolan is now in position to make an easy time of a yearly requirement, taking Sherry to the first day of the Minnesota State Fair. In the past few years, he had to make the drive from Winnipeg to Bloomington to fulfill that requirement. “It has to be on opening day,’’ Nolan added, once more with the grin.

That’s an easy assignment this time around.



  1. Sherry Nolan says:

    Uncle Witt and the first Monday of the State Fair. Lol Thanks for the nice column Jim. 🙂

  2. Lenny Frazzitta says:

    Paul Nolan is one of the best/classiest riders I have ever met. A horse always has a shot with Nolan in the saddle. He will be a top of the Canterbury standings in no time, as deserved!

  3. So glad to see Paul Nolan here. I have always been a fan. PA’s call of the 1997 Lady Canterbury is classic!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: