Don't go believing everything you hear about thoroughbred horse racing being a cold, calculating business where little or no feelings exist for the magnificent animals that provide the speed.
While it is definitely a business, and no one in the back stretch denies that fact, it does have its share of tender moments. It's just that the people who work in the business, the owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms etc., are a tight-knit group, and don't often open up to outsiders.
Ardell Sayler had a short story to tell on Wednesday. It had to do with his 1,000th lifetime win in the fifth race on July 6, with a three-year-old filly named Menyata, who it could be suggested was saying in her own equine way, "thank you," to the 59-year-old who saved her life.
"Milestones mean we're getting older," said Sayler, regarding the big win, "but that story is really special, because we foaled that filly at the farm (in South Dakota), and when she was 12 hours old her mother bled to death.
"Me, my wife Janet and my daughter Nicole bottle fed that baby every two hours for weeks. So for her to win my 1,000th race was sort of a soft spot because of all of the work we did with her from a baby, to a little orphan with no mamma, to my 1,000th win."
Bottle feeding wasn't the end of it. Sayler said that as she grew to be a yearling Menyata also treated him, his wife and daughter as her own family. "We'd lead her around the yard, and with no momma, she'd follow my wife and daughter around like a little pail calf, so it was really touching to have that filly win the race."
There is more to Sayler's milestone win.
"What I also thought was really nice was to have Rohan Singh win it on Menyata. He won my 700th race, I won his 1,000th race (with You Darn Right) and he came back to win my 1,000th race. He's a professional. When he comes to my barn in the morning, he's all business. I'd say Rohan has probably won 350-400 of my races. Oh we argue and we fight sometimes, but we come to decisions. You have to be open-minded, because every situation is different. One time he's wrong, the next time I'm wrong. If you work on it long enough, you'll find the answer."
Another horse Sayler has a soft spot in his heart for is Hey Hey Renee. Purchased for pocket change of $3,300 at a yearling sale in 2004, the three-year-old filly went on to win three stakes races. Sayler told the Free Press in 2006 that Hey Hey Renee was the greatest find of his career.
Sayler has won the leading trainer title at Assiniboia Downs more times than anyone else. With nine notches on his belt, he's in contention to add his 10th title this season. But it isn't going to be a runaway.
Sayler leads the standings with 29 wins going into today's program. Right behind him is Chad Torevell with 28, Jerry Gourneau with 20, last year's winner Tom Gardipy Jr., with 18 and Jared Brown with 17. With 24 race dates left on the calendar, Sayler says anything can happen. "This is a business. Whoever wins what is not going to ruin our friendship. We have respect for one another, but when you get into the race it's dog eat dog. Everyone wants to win."
Sayler says it doesn't matter to him who wins the trainer title.
"I have a lot of respect for Chad Torevell, Tom Gardipy and Jerry Gourneau," he said. "They'll run them at you."
Post time today and Saturday is 7:05 p.m.