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 Burnsville , 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


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


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


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.’’


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.


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.


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.

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.