Winning never gets boring for Paul Nolan. Neither does riding super horse Balooga Bull.
Recalling his Free Press Stakes win by a nose June 16 over Pleasant Closing, Nolan said, "When you win a tight race like that, as you approach the wire, it's like you're caught up in a wave. You have the crescendo of the wave, and all the noise. Then when you hit the wire it's like whooossshhhh, and then everything is quiet. You've done it. I mean it's nice to win easy, but if you have to fight for it, and beat someone good, it is so much more rewarding."
The British-born Nolan, 51, has ridden Balooga Bull for six of his eight stakes victories. In 2011, he rode him in the Osiris Stakes. A two-year-old at the time, Balooga Bull also won the Graduation Stakes and the Winnipeg Futurity, but Mark Anderson rode him to those victories.
'When I get old and I feel like I can't do it, you won't see me out here. I mean, racing is a mindset. It keeps you young, you are ridding against people who are younger, but you are also out there having fun, doing something that you love doing. Not many people can say that'
In 2012, 10-time ASD top trainer Ardell Sayler handed the Bull's reigns over to Nolan and he's been his rider ever since. As a three-year-old, he took him to the winner's circle three times -- the Golden Boy, Manitoba Lotteries Derby and the Gold Cup.
This year, the two-time ASD Horse of the Year has already won back-to-back stakes victories -- first the Free Press and then the Frank Arnason last Saturday. Of course, Nolan, last year's leading rider at the Downs, was in the irons for those trips to the winner's circle as well.
Nolan is again on top of the standings this season with 28 victories, but he's far from comfortable there. Jennifer Reid, who finished second last season, continues to crowd him with 26 wins and Christopher Husbands is third with 22.
Does the lack of breathing room bother Nolan? Not at all. In fact, he says everyone is just doing his or her job.
"They're not supposed to (be giving me breathing room)," he said. "I know how many wins I've got, but I couldn't tell you how many winners somebody else has, because that isn't my problem. My focus is on just getting my job done right."
With 25 years of professional riding under his belt, Nolan is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, if you're looking for a proper scolding, simply bring up the subject of age.
"I get PO'd when people bring up age," he said. "When I get old and I feel like I can't do it, you won't see me out here. I mean, racing is a mindset. It keeps you young, you are riding against people who are younger, but you are also out there having fun, doing something that you love doing. Not many people can say that.
"The aches and pain comes with the territory. If you hit the ground a lot, you're going to feel it. But I'll tell you when I am done. I'll be the one who makes that decision. Right now I'm out there winning races and that all people have to worry about."
Having said all that, Nolan is pleased with the way things are going this year, but he confessed that after last season, he had to fight off a little bit of the blues when Sayler took Balooga Bull back to his ranch outside Rapid City, S.D.
"You always have your ups and downs," he confessed. "Some weeks are good, some weeks aren't so good. Some horses run really good, and some have been disappointing. That's racing. It's is a roller coaster, so you just have to enjoy it when you can. If you are into this for the long hall, you better get used to it, because it doesn't get any easier."
It's easy to assume that horse racing is all business, with no intimate feelings for the animals. Nolan doesn't fit that assumption. At least not where Balooga Bull is concerned.
"When he left here last year, I missed him," Nolan said. "I know we've won some big races, but it's more. It's the connection. I'd come in the mornings, and he would do things. He'd mess with me, and I knew what he was doing. He even messed with me in the allowance race after we won the Manitoba Derby. Half way through the race I asked him to switch leads twice, and he wouldn't do it. Then he goes on and does it on his own. It was as though he looked back with a smirk on his face.
"I got real close with him, and when he was gone, it was like there was a big hole. It was weird, because I hadn't had that happen for a long, long time."
Post times tonight and Saturday are 7:30 p.m. For Monday's program, which includes the $30,000, one-mile Canada Day Stakes for fillies and mares, its 1:30 p.m.