How do you spell relief?
For Ardell Sayler, the 11-time leading horse trainer at Assiniboia Downs, it’s W-H-E-A-T-C-I-T-Y.
That’s because the star of his 60-horse barn, Balooga Bull, finally beat Magic D’ Oro in the $30,000 Wheat City Stakes last week after losing two races in a row to that colt. Balooga, with two-time leading jockey Paul Nolan in control, galloped straight to the lead in the one-mile test and dug in even harder when Magic tried to get up to him in the stretch, winning by three quarters of a length.
The normally taciturn Sayler even cracked a grin — but you know he had to be bubbling over inside.
After all, Bull has been his baby since cattle rancher Paul Brandt — in a fit of generosity it has to be said — allowed fellow South Dakotan Sayler to train his very talented colt at the Downs instead of sending him to an "A" track. Every race track needs a "name" horse and Balooga has been it, right from his first race as a two-year-old three years ago, which he won as a 12-1 underdog, followed up with victories in the Winnipeg Futurity, Manitoba Derby and two Gold Cups. He’s won a remarkable 14 of 19 starts worth $288,000.
Problem is, the two-time Horse of the Year is high maintenance.
"He’s a real tough horse to train," Sayler said after the race. "He has a lot of problems and (the vet) treats this horse four times a day. We’re starting to gain on him and hopefully he’ll return a good race after this one."
Hopefully. A pretty big word.
For two years, Pleasant Closing, an astute Arkansas purchase by trainer Murray Duncan, gave the Bull all he could handle, beating him three times. And now it’s Magic D’ Oro, a shrewd purchase from Turf Paradise in Arizona by high-percentage trainer Rob Atras, that is giving Bull’s connections fits.
A horse from Woodbine in Toronto also figures into the mix now. He’s Prince Raphael, bred by Winnipeggers Ozzie and Cristina Belle. He finished third in the Wheat City and appears to have more upside after undergoing stem cell therapy during a two-year hiatus.
In the meantime, Bull deserves his due — at least until Derby Day, Aug 4. That’s when the three of them will likely collide again in the R. J. Speers Stakes. The true winner? Race fans.
That race will likely be another barn-burner.