BY JIM WELLS
Sunday arrived with an immediate question _ which jersey for the Minnesota Vikings season opener:
Brad Johnson, Jared Allen or Adrian Peterson ?
As it turned out, No. 14, the Johnson pullover, seemed right.
The choice of ball cap was simple, ….plain, with the Vikings logo on the front.
Paul Nolan, former champion rider at Canterbury Park, a native of England and long-time favorite among Shakopee fans, arrived in plenty of time to take in the season-opener with friends in the track’s pressbox, wearing colors appropriate to the occasion.
Nolan won the riding title in Shakopee in 2006 and was known as the sod surgeon for the rides he gave horses on the turf course, for his ability to negotiate the lawn with finesse and precision. He could easily have been referred to as something such as “Big Money” also, for his ability to bring home the high-priced winners.
Nolan’s success at Canterbury is reflected yet in the all-time rider standings. At the start of the meet that will end with cards on Friday and Saturday, he was fourth in all-time earnings with $8,553,829, second in all-time starts with 5,515, and fourth in all time wins with 685.
He was injured in a riding accident at Will Rogers Downs in April, 2017, and has been confined to a wheelchair since. The Vikings opener gave him the opportunity to leave behind for a few hours some of the drudgery, mental anguish and physical discomfort that accompanies his daily life. And it provided his wife, Sherry, with a rare respite, too.
Sunday was dedicated to tales of yore and, of stories about the episodes in a rider’s life, Nolan’s in particular, and friends arrived sporadically to share the afternoon: Steve and Dorothy Erban, the Star-Tribune’s Rachel Blount, Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens, jockey Patrick Canchari, press box magistrate Jeff Maday, Canterbury blogger Jim Wells
Story number one involved the Erbans, who were on the backside when they heard of Nolan’s confab in the pressbox. They arrived with tales of their own, since Nolan rode for them at one time.
The horse in particular was Chasin Mason, named for their daughter, Mason, and winner of the 2006 Minnesota Oaks. Owned by the Erbans and Marion Davidson, Dorothy’s father, Chasin went 1:44.24 under Nolan that afternoon.
Nolan asked the owners after his first work aboard Chasin Mason not to let anyone else ride the horse. “You know, training a racehorse is an easy thing to do if you have someone galloping her who knows what he’s doing,” Erban said.
Chasin was/is not without her foibles either. A fussy eater, her owners gathered up the best they could find of nearby grasses and made what they came to refer to as a Mason Salad for the Oaks winner.
“The development of that horse was all Paul Nolan, Erban added.
Of course, the day would not have been complete without reference to Nolan’s greatest Canterbury triumph, aboard K Z Bay in the 1997 Lady Canterbury, worth $150,000 that year. She paid $67.80 as a winner and claimed a spot among the track’s legends.
Nolan chuckled when reminded of the scene at the local hangout in Wood, S.D., trainer/owner Bob Ryno’s hometown. A fellow in a local bistro, among those watching the race, put a hole in the ceiling with his head while jumping up and down on a table.
Oh, but more enjoyable yet was the boxing contest in which Nolan participated at Beulah Park one year.
The participants shared headgear used in previous bouts as well as boxing gloves. “It was terrible,” Nolan recalled, “the headgear were all sweaty from the previous user, and the boxing gloves were soaked, too.”
Then, of course, those punches to the noggin…..
“My head was ringing all night long,” Nolan added.
He won his first bout, then lost on points to the fellow who made it to the finals. “”I was so glad I didn’t win,” Nolan said. “That head ringing was awful.”
And how about the the Fourth of July celebration in Denver, where Nolan spent several weeks at the Craig Hospital after his accident. As an Englishman, he thought a little ribbing of the U.S. lads was in order. “He wore an English Cap with Union Jack and attached a small flag to his electric wheelchair that said, “Happy Treason Day, peasants.”
And so it went, on and on throughout an afternoon of cheer and reminiscence.
And a Vikings victory….