Everything went pretty well according to script Sunday, as Assiniboia Downs wrapped up the 2013 season.
Paul Nolan won his second straight leading rider title, Ardell Sayler won his 11th leading trainer championship and Janine Smith rode Zdeno to his third stakes win in the $50,000 Buffalo Stakes and his fourth victory in as many starts.
Also, Tyrone Nelson rode Thunderclap Newman into the winner's circle by claiming the longest race of the year, the mile-and-three-quarter final event in the four-leg Marathon series.
All in all, it was a fine afternoon at the track. That was, until Smoke Show, with Nolan up, went down half a furlong from the finish line in the Buffalo Stakes.
The Sayler-trained Smoke Show was making his move between horses down the stretch when he clicked heels with Regal Silver (Adolfo Morales up), who had drifted into his path. Both Smoke Show and Nolan plunged head-first into the turf. Both horse and rider lay motionless for several minutes as emergency crews rushed to the scene.
Eventually, both Nolan and Smoke Show walked off under their own steam and Regal Silver was pushed from fourth place to ninth.
Prior to the accident Nolan and Sayler had been presented with awards for having captured the leading rider and trainer titles.
Nolan, who hails from Little Haywood, England, finished with 76 wins. He spoke of celebrating with a trip back home, but first praised Morales, who finished second with 67 wins and Jennifer Reid, third with 57.
"Adolfo gave me a run for my money, but I can enjoy this one a little bit more," he said. "I didn't have to worry about Jennifer (Reid) chasing me this time around."
He was referring to last season when Reid took him to the last race before he could claim the title."
"Going home is going to be fun," he went on. "My mom and dad are back there, along with my brother and two sisters. My nephew has just recovered from leukemia, and my niece just began riding horses about a year ago."
For Sayler, the 11th time was as wonderful as the first. This time around he amassed 59 victories, while last year's champion, Shelley Brown, was second with 40. Chad Torevell was third with 31.
"We work hard at it, and a lot of the effort was in my help back there (in the barn). They are really good, and they made this possible for me," Sayler said.
Sayler said the most gratifying moment came on Aug. 30, when one of his top horses showed he had fully recovered from a serious ulcer.
"When Balooga Bull won that allowance race... knowing that he was on the way back. We were also happy about him winning the (Gold Cup Stakes) race after that, but when he won that allowance race, we knew he was coming back. That was the most fulfilling part of this season."
There was no year-end championship for Smith, but the 25-year-old rider was delighted when two-year-old Zdeno easily handled the field in the Buffalo Stakes.
"He's a pretty nice horse," she said, but altered a prediction she had made two weeks ago when she said he would be named horse of the year. "You know what? He's definitely in the running, but (two-time winner) Balooga Bull came back and did really well.
"I hope it is a tough decision, but our horse is four-for-four, and he beat open company as a Manitoba-bred in the Winnipeg Futurity. I definitely think he should be up for consideration."
The season had its ups and downs, and in a press release issued Sunday, Downs CEO Darren Dunn stated that there was a 24.3 per cent increase in wagering by bettors outside the province, but on-track betting was down 10.8 per cent. The handle for the 60-day season was $8.7 million, compared to $8.2 million last year.
In addition, the Manitoba Jockey Club announced that it had a signed deal with the horsemen for next year that will have the same number of racing days and the same purse structure as the season just ended.