Sometimes you just have to go with good old horse sense, and listen to what the horse is telling you.
Monday afternoon in the eighth race at Assiniboia Downs, jockey Paul Nolan and trainer Ardell Sayler gave Balooga Bull his head and the big Kentucky-bred gelding went wire to wire to win the 64th running of the $75,000 Manitoba Lotteries Derby.
Ten lengths back in the mile-and-an-eighth race was previously undefeated Up Jumps A Monster from San Francisco with Scott Williams up. Pleasant Closing, ridden by Tyrone Nelson was third. The splits were 22.1 seconds at the quarter, 46.1 at the half, 1:11.3 three-quarters into the race, and 1:51.4 at the wire.
In his first race over six furlongs on July 14, Nolan held Balooga Bull back to save him for the finish. As a result he finished third in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Harry Jeffrey Stakes.
But this time around they let Balooga Bull, now 7-1, decide how he was going to run the race.
"I rode that race (the Harry Jeffrey) over and over again probably 100 times," said Nolan. "You know, you are always taught that if you are going long for the first time its always best to rate (pace) him and save your kick. Obviously he didn't want that. He just folded like a cheap suitcase, and it was like he was giving me the finger more than anything.
"So we kept thinking, what are we going to do? And I said to Ardell, let's just let him do what he wants to do. Just let him be himself."
"The first time we run a mile we fought him, and tried to slow him down, and we shouldn't have done that," said the veteran trainer out of Rapid City, S.D. "This time we didn't fight him. We let him run the way he wanted to, and however fast he wanted to go."
Sayler said that after losing the Harry Jeffrey Stakes, he had a few doubts about whether Balooga Bull was the route (distance) horse he thought he was. "We wondered how far he could go," admitted Sayler, "but I knew the pedigree, and I knew the pedigree could go a mile-and-an-eighth."
Still the field was tough, and there were out-of-town horses Sayler was concerned about. "I was worried about Up Jumps A Monster. He was undefeated (4-0), and I was real worried about that. I've been undefeated, but then I was defeated, so you always worry about those kind of horses."
When he doesn't get his way, Nolan says Balooga Bull can be a pain in the backside. "I was on a Cadillac today," he said. "It was a nice smooth ride, but he can be a little obstinate sometimes. He won't switch lanes when you want him to, and when he has his mind set up, there is not much you can do with that."
Ironically, with 10 Trainer of the Year awards to his credit, this was Sayler's first Manitoba Derby victory. He said winning the Derby for the first time, trumps all 10 of his Trainer of the Year titles. "This was the greatest. This is what we kept the horse for. My client (owner Paul Brandt) didn't want to sell him. We turned down a lot of money for him, and I'm talking about $400,000, but his dream was to win the Manitoba Derby, and that's what we've done. Sometimes you just have to stick to your dream and see what happens.
Meanwhile, Nolan, who currently is second in the jockey standings with 44 wins, behind Rohan Singh with 53, has snapped the dry spell he's been languishing in lately. "I had to use a GPS to find where the winner's circle was, because it's been such a long time," he quipped. "But if you are going to come out of a drought, this is the race to win."
As for Balooga Bull, Sayler says he'll get a day or two off to rest before they decide what comes next. "We'll see how he comes back. We might go over to the Canadian Derby in Edmonton. We'll see what happens."