December 16, 2019

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Local horse-racing community loses legendary trainer

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/5/2019 (202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Few in these parts — or anywhere, for that matter — had the horse sense of Ardell Sayler.

The Rapid City, S.D., rancher could pick out a diamond in the rough well before its transformation to a glittering gem. That's what made him special. That's what made him an unparallelled 12-time Assiniboia Downs trainer of the year.

On Saturday, the local horse-racing community lost the legend. Sayler died from what's believed to be a heart attack

Sayler, who split time between his home in Rapid City and Winnipeg, was 66.

"He's a legend, that's for sure. He had an awfully good eye for a race horse and he probably knew more about breeding than anybody that I knew, for sure," said close friend and longtime racing compatriot, Doug Mustard, on Monday afternoon.

He got to know Sayler when the man who went on to train an astounding 1,321 winners was just 12 years old. The two were neighbours in the trailer park on the Downs property for the last 30 years.

Sayler celebrates his 1,300th winner, United We Stand, at Assiniboia Down in 2018.

JASON HALSTEAD PHOTO

Sayler celebrates his 1,300th winner, United We Stand, at Assiniboia Down in 2018.

"He was lots of fun. We had a lot of good times over the years. He and I fought and argued, and then fought and argued some more, and were still the best of friends when the day was over," said Mustard. "He was terrific with two-year-olds. He won a lot of two-year-old races. The man worked so, so hard at what he did.

"This leaves a huge hole in our community because of the man and the trainer he was. He had lots of horses and he ran his horses. But he didn't come up here to sit on the bench, he came up to play the game."

'He was lots of fun. We had a lot of good times over the years. He and I fought and argued, and then fought and argued some more, and were still the best of friends when the day was over' – Lifelong friend, Doug Mustard

Sayler won his first race at the Downs in 1967 as an owner. His inaugural triumph as a trainer came with a horse named Hay Bomb at Jefferson Park (South Dakota) on June 15, 1980. In addition to his victories, he posted 1,157 second-place finishes and 1,084 thirds from a total of 7,549 starts — as well as purse earnings of $8,426,453.

Darren Dunn, CEO of the Manitoba Jockey Club (that operates the Downs), said the news hit with a wallop.

"Certainly, we're devastated and still coming to grips with what happened. It's a loss of an icon in our industry and a gentleman as well, very competitive on the race track, always wanted to win, but you could socialize with him afterward and he'd raise a glass in victory or raise a glass in defeat with the idea of 'I'll get you next time' to his competitors," Dunn said.

"I always respected his loyalty. Here's an individual who hails from Rapid City yet since the early '90s, religiously, paid homage to Assiniboia Downs in Manitoba when he could have raced at other places. He found a home here, found a lot of friends here and found a lot of success here."

Horse Trainer Ardell Sayler (right) with horse Girl Boss and jockeyTyrone Nelson in the stables at Assiniboine Downs in 2016. Sayler, a legend in the local horse racing community, died Saturday from what's believed to be a heart attack at age 66.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Horse Trainer Ardell Sayler (right) with horse Girl Boss and jockeyTyrone Nelson in the stables at Assiniboine Downs in 2016. Sayler, a legend in the local horse racing community, died Saturday from what's believed to be a heart attack at age 66.

Sayler's 12 trainer titles will stand as one of the great records in Winnipeg sports history.

"The second most is seven, so it's a number that will stand as long as Assiniboia Downs stands. That will never be equalled or surpassed, I can say that with confidence," Dunn said.

Trips to the winner's circle by the horses Sayler trained continued right until the night before he died.

Two of Sayler's horses, Home of the Free and To Honorandcherish, posted victories on Saturday night at the Downs. But he was on the mend from several injuries the last few weeks and had to watch live-streams of the races from his trailer, Mustard said.

"He's been used up. He had broken a foot or an ankle before he came up here (May 1) and broke some ribs, and then he got pushed over by a horse in the barn a couple of weeks ago and ended up with a cracked knee, so he was pretty well stuck at home," he said.

He leaves behind his wife, daughter and son, as well as three grandchildren and five step-grandchildren.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

Read full biography

History

Updated on Monday, May 27, 2019 at 8:48 PM CDT: Fixes typo

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