by JIM WELLS
Whenever his dad has horses running, young Ryder Olmstead takes up residence in the photography studio located in the bowels of the grandstand, usually behind the counter where transactions take place.
Fortunate customers or bystanders are sometimes treated, if their timing is right, to one of his impersonations of Paul Allen, Canterbury Park’s race caller.
Word for word, inflections and all, you’ll hear young Ryder deliver Eagles Span’s win in the futurity last year with all of excitement and thrill a squeaky, six-year-old voice can muster.
He can do the same with other good horses from the barn, often keeping his father alert behind the wheel during long hauls from one location to the next. “Oh, he’ll keep up a chatter the whole time,” Jason Olmstead said.
Ryder was nearly raised in the barn, according to his father, and he never looks out of place: his cap or occasional western hat might look a bit large on his tiny head, but his boots seem to fit perfectly, as they should.
“ ‘Anybody in here wearing spurs today,’” a bystander in the studio asked on a recent afternoon. “Hey, right here,” came a tiny voice from behind the counter, stomping one foot against the cement floor.
The race call impressions are the real treat, however.
“He’ll call the race, gate to wire verbatim,” said Oscar Quiroz, the right hand man to Shawn Coady in the photo department. “Most kids his age play video games. Ryder likes to watch replays of races.”
That, and hang out in the barn, dawn to dust, pitching in wherever a six-year-old is infrequently able.
His dad and mother, a proficient trainer in her own right as Amber Blair, understand their son’s affinity for such things, although…
“I wish he’d get his head into school,” Jason said. Well, first grade still awaits…in the meantime Ryder’s head, unlike that of his eight-year-old sister, Kadyn, is in the barn, covered by a ball cap or western hat.
“She prefers doing other things, girl things. She likes to swim,” Jason said. “She got burned out in the barn when she was real young. She learned fast that it was an all-day thing.”
Ryder’s just the opposite. “He’d rather be at the barn than anyplace else,” Jason added. “That’s the way he’s grown up.”
The Olmsteads won the quarter horse training title last year and lead the current standings as well. “We pretty much hold our own every year,” Jason said.
Indeed they do.
Both of their names appear in several top 10 categories of historical statistics compiled in Shakopee since quarter horse racing debuted there in 1986.
There is no sign they are slowing down, either. Quite the reverse.
It has gone, Jason says, from being simply fun to a full time job. “By far we have the most up here we’ve had,” he said. “I think we have about 50 head right now.”
Spring time at home in Oklahoma is not much different. The Olmsteads stable perhaps 35 at Remington Park and keep another 35 at home in Pryor. Jason cares for the horses at the track and Amber takes of business at home at the training center.
“We swap them in and out,” Jason added.
Mere fun to full time?
Every Sunday night in the spring he makes the two-hour trip from Oklahoma City to Pryor and then heads back again on Wednesdays. During those trips his young companion frequently does renditions of race calls, doing his favorites over and over again. “He’s relentless,” Jason said. “He’ll sit there with his iPad watching replays of races over and over again.”
Olmstead will saddle four horses in Saturday’s Canterbury Park Quarter Horse Derby trials and then on Sunday will send out Wavin Bye Bye Carver in the $25,000-added Bob Morehouse Stakes.
He’s not sure what to think yet of his comparatively fast start to this year’s meet.
“Last year we started a little slow. I don’t recall if we won a race before the Northlands trials. This year we already have nine wins and we’re a month into the meet. Last year we had only four or five wins at this time.”
By another measure, the Olmstead barn is dead even. “We qualified five to the Northlands last year and we qualified five again this year,” he said.
Ryder, meanwhile, expects a win every time out. “He’s relentless,” Jason said. “He really is.”
And he just might have what it takes to survive one day in a tough business.
“Don’t show him any sign of weakness,” his dad said. “Or he’ll eat you alive.”