Dare we call it a dynasty? If you ask Ardell Sayler, he'll just say he's "a big fish in a small pond."
Regardless, the 59-year-old horseman from Rapid City, S.D., has unofficially won his 10th leading trainer title at Assiniboia Downs. He currently sits on top of the standings with 45 wins. Chad Torevell is next with 38 and Jerry Gourneau third with 34. With only five racing days left on the calendar, it's highly unlikely either Torevell or Gourneau will catch him.
It wasn't all that long ago however (Aug. 26, 2006), that while on the verge of winning his eighth title, Sayler told the Free Press that the fire of his life, which is this sport of kings, had begun to flicker. He added that 2006 would be his last kick at the cat, as far as aiming for the top rung of the trainer's ladder.
Then, in 2008 he won another title, and on Sept. 25, he'll be crowned a 10th time. Clayton Grey is next with seven titles and Tom Dodds won the crown five times.
"My whole family has been racing since 1961 and it's bred into me," said Sayler, Wednesday. "I love the game and I love the thrill, the work and the worries. There are a lot of other things I could have done, but would I have enjoyed it? No. I enjoy this. I've never won a trainer title anywhere else. I've been second and third in Nebraska."
Sayler has always been known for running a large stable of horses, albeit he had only 40-45 head this year, compared to past years when he housed upwards of 70. He's also known for finding bargains.
Take Balooga Bull, for instance. Purchased last year for $2,000, this Kentucky-bred two-year-old colt has won all four of his races this year, including the Winnipeg Futurity, Osiris and Graduation Stakes.
"He's just a poor man's horse," said Sayler. "You always hope for a horse like him, but expect it? No. In two-year-old racing anything can happen, and the colt is just a natural. In every race he has overcome any problems that were in the race."
Sayler said the owner (Paul Brandt of Onida, S.D.) has had some pretty good offers for Balooga Bull, but turned them all down. "We look at it this way -- we've got only $2,000 invested in him and he's made us close to $70,000 ($69,684) so he don't owe us nothing."
Drawing a comparison to another two-year-old he brought up here a few years ago, he said, "He'll be better than Hey Hey Renee. This is probably one of the best two-year-olds I've ever trained in my lifetime. He's special. I never brag about my horses, but this horse has earned the right for me to brag about him."
That's bold talk, considering Hey Hey Renee, a $3,300 purchase as a yearling in 2004, went on to win six races in 14 starts, including the Winnipeg Futurity, Assiniboia Oaks, Chantilly, Jack Hardy and the Debutante Stakes, and $136,902 in lifetime earnings.
So if Balooga Bull is so gosh-darn good, how did they get him for the bargain-basement price of $2,000? "His sire is Flashy Bull, which right now is the leading juvenile sire," said Sayler. "Last year his colts hadn't run yet, but since then he's had a filly win a $350,000 Stake and another that set a track record at Aqueduct, so he has become a hot sire. This year his babies will go for around $40,000-$50,000 a pop."
The other Flashy Bull colt in his stable is Balooga Bull's sister Ezlovinsosexylookn. "She's more laid back and undeveloped, but I think she'll be an awful nice three-year-old next year," he said. So far, she has had two starts and finished first and second, winning $12,000.
Of course, being a good two-year-old doesn't always equate into being a good three-year-old, but Sayler is optimistic for Balooga Bull.
"Who knows? He may not run a jump next year, but our expectations are that he'll be a Manitoba Derby winner. That's what we'll be shooting for."