Nolan Left Mark On Lady Canterbury

Paul Nolan and K Z Bay

Paul Nolan was known as the Sod Surgeon when he rode regularly at Canterbury Park, for his success on the grass, often aboard horses that were sent off at long odds. Take the most spectacular win in the history of the Lady Canterbury Stakes, the race that headlines Sunday’s card, as a prime example. Nolan rode KZ Bay to the winner’s circle in the 1997 Lady Canterbury and returned $67.80 for a $2 win wager.  He was the leading rider at Canterbury in 2006.




The Nolans have five cats, all but one of them rescue animals from the racetrack, and Paul and Sherry consider them family.

Squinky, Snip, Ming Li, Minnie and Rainy.

They don’t have children, so the felines have become surrogates of a sort, the next best thing, something they have shared since the beginning of their relationship.

Sherry recalled telling Paul when he first paid her a visit during their courting days years ago that she had four Persian cats and wondered how he felt about the issue. He had always been a dog lover, but said he had nothing against cats in particular.

“The next thing I knew, there was Paul holding one of the cats upside down in his arms, like a baby, rocking it,’’ Sherry recalled.

Occasionally in recent weeks, whenever they are on the phone, Sherry will hold it near one or more of the family cats so that Paul can speak to them before she ends the conversation, she from their home in Bloomington , he from the Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado,a center that specializes in spinal cord and traumatic brain injury.

Nolan can’t move his arms. He can’t stand or walk on his own.

Any contact with life the way it was, the people and animals, is reassuring.

“It’s going to be a long, slow process. There is no prognosis,’’ Sherry said.

He had planned to ride in the current meet at Canterbury Park, where he once was a regular and won a riding title before taking his tack to other locations during the summer months.

Then, on April 18, a horse he was riding at Will Rogers Downs threw him forward after the finish line and rolled over the top of him. The horse was fine and there was no indication why he collapsed as he did after the wire.

Nothing about that night is even slightly vague to Sherry Nolan, not even weeks later.

“I was watching the race on my laptop, the eighth race, and he wasn’t going to ride again until the 10th,’’ she said. “I didn’t watch him gallop out.’’

She went about other household chores and then tuned in again for the 10th race.

“The race had been delayed,’’ she recalled. “Then I noticed that Paul was calling me.’’

It wasn’t Paul. It was his agent, Rick Jones, with the disturbing news. At that moment Nolan was being taken to a local hospital. Details were sketchy but promising.

It became a night of confusion and unanswered questions thereafter.

Sherry was ill with a cold and the flu, had been for weeks, and had difficulty saying more than a few words without coughing. Yet, eventually she reached Paul who was able to utter only a couple of words, himself.

“Hi, dear,’’ he said.

Information was slow in coming. Sherry hung up the phone for the night around 1 a.m. after a nurse told her Paul was resting comfortably. Results of an MRI wouldn’t be available for several hours or more.

When the results of the MRI arrived, Sherry learned that there were no breaks in his spinal column; it was not comprised, but his spinal cord was severely swollen and there was a bruise at C3, the area that controls the respiratory system.

“He can feel his arms but he can’t move them,’’ Sherry added. “A lot of the ligaments in the front and back of the shoulders were severely stretched and injured.’’

It has become a matter of waiting, day after day.

Waiting and hoping.

The center plans to release Nolan toward the end of July. Even that promising news is compromised by other unfinished business and uncertainty. Their Minnesota home is not wheelchair accessible. Much moderation and updating needs to be accomplished, and even those plans are hung up by details with contractors and others.

Currently, he needs 24-hour a day care and will certainly need continued care and therapy even upon release. “We don’t know how long,’’ Sherry added.

The other night she lectured her husband after detecting that his confidence had dipped. “He was feeling a bit down,’’ she explained, “and I had to say a few things.’’

There are also the well wishes and generosity of colleagues, friends and horsemen and jockey associations. The kind of outreaching that has sustained the Nolans, financially and emotionally.

“It’s been unbelievable,’’ Sherry said. “Everyone has been so generous.’’

The jockeys at Will Rogers Downs and at Remington Park have sent checks. A person for whom Nolan once rode locally sent a check. His valet at Will Rogers tore up the checks he received from Nolan. There is insurance money, too. All of it has relieved the financial strain.

“I want to cry. Everyone has been so good, so generous,’’ she said. “I’ve been able to pay the property taxes and other bills. I can’t say enough. It takes off so much pressure.’’

One less thing to worry about in the wake of a life-changing event that continues to present new questions and uncertainties just as others are answered.




  1. Anonymous says:

    Canterbury should set up a GoFundMe page for Paul and/or use its connections with the media to coordinate a story that can run on a local newscast along with a GoFundMe page.

  2. Sherry Nolan says:

    Thanks Jim for the lovely article. You spelled my name correctly, LOL, but oops! Bloomington . Paul will be pleased.

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