FOR NOLAN, THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Nolan and Track President Randy Sampson

BY JIM WELLS

There is indeed substance to the notion that you can’t go home again, back to the place you left at one time and the way it was, with all of the same elements in place, supported now by only memory. But sometimes just getting to that physical place you left behind seems equally impossible.

No one is any better equipped to expound on that idea than Paul Nolan, a prominent figure in Canterbury Park history who fully intended to rejoin the jockey colony this spring until fate stepped in and changed those plans for the worse.

Paralyzed in a riding accident in April at Will Rogers Downs, Nolan was first cared for in a local hospital before he was transferred to the Craig Institute in suburban Denver and underwent extensive therapy for his injuries.

Then, on Tuesday, he traveled back to the Twin Cities where he and his wife, Sherry, have owned a home for years. He needs to undergo additional rehabilitation before he can again live at his Bloomington home and was brought to the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Golden Valley.

He was not there 24 hours when he underwent a drop in heart rate, later attributed to the stress of travel and healing factors, and was transferred to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. He expects to return to the Courage Center on Monday.

So, after all of these weeks and months, Nolan’s return home didn’t even include a permanent hospital. As he discussed his return to Minnesota on Friday, he quickly assessed the idea that he was finally home. “It’s close,’’ he said. “It’s been a weird ride.’’

For anyone unfamiliar with the popular rider, Nolan is originally from England and emigrated to the United States in the late 1980s to pursue his trade as a race rider. After moving his tack to Canterbury Park he established a lasting mark as a rider who excelled on the grass, picking up the nickname “The Sod Surgeon, ” a rider who could perform wonders on the grass with surgical precision. He often brought in grass runners with long odds on them, mostly notably K Z Bay, who returned $67.80 in the 1997 Lady Canterbury.

For all of the difficulties he is undergoing, Nolan has not lost his sense of humor, a gift of his Irish heritage no doubt that he displays in unexpected flashes at unexpected times.

He acquired a large stuffed Barbie-like doll during his stay at the Craig Institute, a doll he took with him on a boating excursion on one occasion, astonishing nearly everyone around him.

“I call her midnight,’’ he later told a Craig aide. “Why that name,’’ he was asked. “Because,’’ Nolan said, “she comes alive at midnight and we have fun together.’’

The aide was flabbergasted and later asked a colleague if Nolan indeed had all of his marbles. “Why would you ask something like that,’’ he was asked. “Because,’’ the fellow said, “he thinks that doll he has comes alive at midnight.’’

“He’s messing’ with you,’’ the fellow said. “He’s pulling your chain.’’

Nolan has a reputation for his humor, an aspect of his personality that has served him well during his ongoing rehabilitation. He is still without a prognosis for the future, although there remains a basis for hope.

Nolan and former Minnesota Viking Cedric James

Nolan was injured when the horse he was riding fell while galloping out, throwing him forward and then rolling over the top of him. The horse was fine but Nolan immediately knew something was wrong as an inexplicable force surged through his body and left him helpless, his head in the dirt.

“I couldn’t get my breath,’’ he said. “I knew something was terribly wrong.’’ He recalls those terrifying moments and those that followed in the back of the emergency vehicle. As it happened, the ambulance driver was in the stands somewhere getting a hamburger when the incident took place, delaying the entire procedure.

Then, on the way to the hospital, the EMT aides kept “asking me questions,’’ he said. “I couldn’t breathe and they wanted answers to questions.’’

The good news in this tragic episode is that although Nolan’s spinal cord was severely swollen, nothing was broken. Nothing in his spinal column was severed. Nonetheless, he is still unable to move his arms or legs to any great extent and is restricted to a wheelchair for mobility.

His current chair doesn’t offer the same flexibility he enjoyed at the Craig Center. His wheelchair there had a straw-like apparatus that allowed him to move forward or backward, right or left, simply by applying less or more force when blowing into it.

“I crashed into more things with that chair than I ever did on a horse,’’ Nolan said.

Nolan appeared adjusted to his new surroundings on Friday, injecting his conversations with doctors and nurses with his incurable sense of humor, taking in all they conveyed at the same time.

He received a call from his mother, Ann, in England. Later, Sherry arrived.

The most unpleasant moment of the morning, it seemed, was that his hospital coffee was coming up short, not at all comparable with his favorite brand. As it happens, there is a Caribou outlet in Abbott-Northwestern so on this morning, at least, his wishes were satisfied. Although he has to drink his coffee through a straw, Nolan appreciated the taste of his favorite brand.

After all, Caribou is a Minnesota brand and on this particular day it brought the Sod Surgeon one step closer to home.

 

VODKA AT MOONLIGHT WINS MOREHOUSE

Vodka At Moonlight

BY JIM WELLS

The bloodlines in racing are not always a study exclusively of the horses that line up in the starting gates or of those that send their progeny to the racetrack. The connections between owners and breeders, their sons and daughters and the generations that follow in their footsteps are often overlooked.

An impossible element to ignore after the 18th running of the Bob Morehouse Stakes on Sunday, a race that brought Morehouse daughters, grandsons, granddaughters and as many as 12 great grandchildren to Canterbury for the $29,200 400-yard dash.

There was another element to the story. One of the winning owners of Sunday’s race, Maren Luedemann, once competed in barrel racing with Becky Morehouse, one of Bob’s daughters.

Daughter Bobbi Morehouse, a Canterbury Park Hall of Fame inductee, shook her head in disbelief at the mere idea that this race has been run 18 times. “It’s really hard to believe,’’ she said.

The Luedemanns, Maren and Paul, were still shaking off the effects of their daughter Cadyn’s graduation from Buffalo High School on Saturday while trying to absorb what their horse Vodka At Moonlight had just accomplished __ their first horse to run in the stakes that honors the Hall of Fame breeder.

Vodka at Moonlight has behaved in the starting gate at times as if she had just consumed a pail-ful of the  alcoholic libation that makes up part of her name. “She bangs her head in the gate, crazy-like,’’ said two-time defending training champion Jason Olmstead. That, in turn, affects her start, the all important aspect to any quarter horse race. .

Apparently that is a problem resolved, the way Paul Luedemann sees it. “She’s had the problem a couple of times, ‘’Luedemann. “She’d get kind of antsy in the gate.’’

That didn’t occur on Sunday. “Jason took the blinkers off her for the first time and she was able to see what was going on around her,’’ Luedemann added.

The result was a race run without incident in the gate (aside form a bit of a duck) and a victory for horse, rider Brayan Velazquez, Olmstead and the Luedemanns.

Maren Luedemann added to the analysis of their grand victory on Sunday, crediting the rider for his understanding of horses.  “Brayan’s a good rider, very intuitive,’’ she said. “He knows how to read a horse.’’

So, too, did the man for whom the race is named, and the stories flowed on Sunday, tales that the Luedemanns had not heard, but should go well with their celebration of Sunday’s victory..

Perhaps the best of those involves a snowbound trip somewhere in Nevada in the 1950s, long before the United States had the highway system that exists today.

Morehouse had been a stunt man and wrangler for numerous Hollywood westerns and had lent his spurs to John Wayne for a particular scene in a film that became well known among the fans of cowboy movies.

Short of cash and snowbound somewhere in Nevada with his wife and young child, Bobbi, Morehouse traded the spurs to a gas-station owner for the fuel he needed to complete his trip.

Then there was the tale Bobbi seems to like most. Her father was sharing a house with a young up-and-coming Hollywood star, Jimmy Cagney.  It seems that the two were at a standoff on who should do the dishes.

“They just keep piling up,’’ Bobbi recalled.

Back to Vodka At Moonlight. She broke fourth in Sunday’s race, moved to second within a head of  Rey D Arranque and reached the wire a head in front of Blacks Cartel, finishing in 20:305 and giving the Luedemanns a story to tell of their own. Along with those they heard for the first time on Sunday about the man for whom the race they won is named.

GOODWIN CONTINUES HIS LEGACY

Nik Goodwin won the sixth race on Thursday’s card aboard a horse named Saganaga, the 1,000th thoroughbred winner of his career.

Then, on Sunday, Goodwin added to his legacy aboard a horse named First Flyin Eagle in the third race to tie Ry Eikleberry for the all-time number of winning quarter horses at the racetrack. The quarter horse winner was the 107th for Goodwin, a Bemidji native.

“That’s two big milestones in one week,’’ said Goodwin. “Well, actually I still have to win one more to set the record.’’

BOUNCING BALLS BENEFIT PAUL NOLAN

Canterbury jockeys competed in an inflated ball race, riding large bouncing rubber balloon-like balls 30 to 40 yards on Sunday to raise money for Paul Nolan, an injured colleague and one-time leading rider in Shakopee.

The event raised money for Nolan and created a number of sideline comments, including the notion that the winning ball would be sent to the test barn to be examined for disallowed quantities such as helium.

Thirteen jockeys bounced their way to the finish line. Actually some were disqualified for carrying their mounts. The winner of the event after much confusion was Jareth Loveberry, who happens to be the current leading thoroughbred rider at Canterbury.

 

The event was sponsored by 13 separate horse owners, raising more than $3,000 to assist Nolan, currently under 24-hour a day supervision at Craig Institute in Colorado. Nolan is unable to stand, walk or move his arms after the horse he was riding rolled over the top of him following a race at Will Rogers Downs in April.

Nolan’s wife, Sherry, was on hand to receive a check after the event on Sunday, presented to her by jockey Dean Butler.

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.

 

BY JIM WELLS

 

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.

 

Smooth Chiraz, Dazzlingsweetheart win stakes

BY JIM WELLS

SMOOTH CHIRAZ - Victor S Myers Stakes - 07-04-16 - R04 - CBY - Finish

VICTOR S. MYERS STAKES

The joy of winning a race can sometimes be enough including as it does validation of a job well done. The monetary reward that goes with it is additional compensation for the investment of time and money, and sometimes there is even more.

Take the case of Francisco Bravo, the trainer of Smooth Chiraz, Monday’s convincing winner of the $60,000 Victor S. Myers Stakes Monday, named for the late veterinarian who played various roles in the early years of Minnesota racing.

The victory was special to Bravo for additional reasons. While studying at the University of River Falls in the 1970s, Bravo met Myers, who was part of the equine program there. “He became a mentor to me and we became friendly,’’ Bravo recalled. “I learned a lot from the man.’’

Special indeed, how lives sometimes overlap, drift apart and are then reconnected, even in a spiritual way as was the case Monday with Bravo, who saddled his third winner of this race. He saddled last year’s winner, Hold for More, who was selected Horse of the Meet, as well as 2000 winner Crocrock

Smooth Chiraz, winner of the Northern Lights Futurity by a head over Cupid’s Delight last year, expanded that margin to seven lengths Monday over the same stablemate, who finished ¾ length in front of front-running speedster Bar fight.

Smooth Chiraz beat only one of his six rivals out of the gate but was a half length behind Bar Fight at the half-mile marker and, gathering steam, was 2 ½ in front at the top of the lane and steadily increased the lead in the stretch run.

 

DAZZLINGSWEETHEART - Frances Genter Stakes - 07-04-16 - R06 - CBY - Finish

FRANCES GENTER STAKES

Dazzlingsweetheart typically takes charge shortly out of the gate and can then go to the lead and stay there. Imagine what she might do if she learns how to break cleaner and quicker.

Not that she needs to, at least not yet.

After all, she is three-for-three after winning this $60,000 Stakes race in convincing style on Monday.

With Chris Rosier in the irons, Dazzlingsweetheart beat only one other filly out of the gate but was at the head of the seven-horse field quickly and lead thereafter, finishing 3 ¼ lengths in front of Honey’s Sox Appeal and another 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Stella’s Princess.

The winning time was 1:09.95, second fastest in this event that was first run in 1988.

“She got away a little slow from the gate,’’ said Rosier, “but she made up for it quickly.’’

The winner is owned by Barry and Joni Butzow and trained by Joe Sharp. Barry Butzow complimented Rosier’s resilience, his ability to deal with the “ups and downs” of horse racing with composure.’’

WELCOME BACK PAUL NOLAN

Paul Nolan won the riding title at Canterbury Park in 2006 and is frequently cited for his victory in the 1997 Lady Canterbury Stakes aboard 32-1 longshot K Z Bay.

After an absence of several years from Shakopee while riding in other jurisdictions, Nolan planned to ride the entire meet at Canterbury this summer until an accident curtailed that plan.

He was galloping horses for Michael Stidham at the time and while grazing a filly one morning was kicked in the chest, a blow that broke two of his ribs.

On Monday, Nolan returned to the saddle with one mount, a filly named First Hunter trained by the meet’s current leading trainer Mac Robertson and bred and owned by Joel Zamzow of Duluth.

FIRST HUNTER -  07-04-16 - R05 - CBY - 001 Post Race

You might recall a filly named Hunter’s Tiger Paw from year’s past, a horse named by Zamzow’s daughter Hunter who was five at the time. That horse is the dam to First Hunter and Hunter the daughter, who’ll shortly turn 15, was on hand in the winner’s circle after the fifth race.

Track announcer Paul Allen made the crowd aware of Nolan’s special connection to Canterbury in the winner’s circle after the race, and the rider, happy but a bit winded, was clearly pleased by the reception.

First Hunter has had trouble switching leads and Mac explained that to Nolan when he worked the horse the other day.

Sure enough, she balked at switching in Monday’s race.

When Nolan gave her a stern request, she at last replied, breaking to the lead and the win. “Without that, she doesn’t win,’’ Nolan said.

The race was for Minnesota-bred maidens at a mile and 70 yards on the turf. Thus,  First Hunter collected her first win, Nolan got a reintroduction to Shakopee racing and the Zamzow family returned to Duluth on a happy note.

THE LAST WORD

Owner Jeff Hilger was discussing his horse, Bar Fight, a son of former Horse of the Year Chick Fight, shortly before the Victor S Myers Stakes.

“He has amazing speed. He could beat some quarter horses,’’ Hilger remarked, adding that he was probably best at quarter horse distances, too. “He goes right to the front. Now we have to figure out how to keep him there through the whole race.’’

“He had such a big lead in his last race that nobody could catch him,’’ Hilger said. “But he almost collapsed at the finish line.’’

Bar Fight went straight to the lead on Monday, too, and hung on for show money.

NOLAN BACK IN THE SADDLE…at HOME

Paul Nolan

BY JIM WELLS

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.

2012 Jockey Rumor Mill Begins

You know the live race meet is near when the Canterbury stable begins coming to life. Trainers are now sending in their advance teams to prepare barns for the imminent arrival of horses this week. Lay down the mats, hang the tubs, bed the stalls, sharpen the pitch forks.

The main track will open for training on Friday as the sprint to opening day begins in earnest.

All of the top trainers are planning to return. Mac Robertson should hit Shakopee soon in defense of his training title. Bernell Rhone, enjoying a bang-up meet at Tampa Bay Downs, is expected here in the first week of May.

The jockey rumor-mill is churning as it does each spring. Word is Ry Eikleberry will remain in slots-rich New Mexico. Jockey agent extraordinaire Richard Grunder has indicated that he will handle the book of Tanner Riggs, last seen here as a regular member of the jockey colony in 2007. Unconfirmed yet buzzing is that Paul Nolan will go to Assiniboia Downs. Paul has been a mainstay in Shakopee for decades. The all-around good guy would be missed here if that pans out. Bobby Walker Jr. is also rumored to be coming to Canterbury this spring.

With all these rumors, the only thing we know for sure is that nothing is for sure until the subject of said rumor drives through the stable gate, or in some cases doesn’t.

Good news for those that dine in the stable area as the track kitchen will be run by a local restaurant specializing in authentic Mexican cuisine.

This blog was written by Canterbury Media Relations Manager Jeff Maday. Maday has filled multiple positions including Media Relations and Player Relations Manager since the track’s reopening in 1995.