BY JIM WELLS
He remembers the first winner of his riding career as if it were last night, and he will remember this one too, well into whatever age his life allows.
His name is Saganaga, a 4-year-old, gelding, and he became the 1,000th winner of Nik Goodwin’s career Thursday night.
It happened in the sixth race on this 9/5 favorite and Goodwin was beaming afterward, taking the class of this race to the winner’s circle, where the trainer, Gary Scherer, and several family members awaited.
He needs one more win aboard a quarter horse to tie Ry Eilkleberry for the all-time lead in that category.
How appropriate someone said, outside the winner’s circle Thursday night. A Minnesota-bred on a Minnesota-bred. A native of the White Earth Reservation and Bemidji, Goodwin was delighted that this winner came at Canterbury Park, where he attended the card on the track’s grand opening as Canterbury Downs in 1985, as a 10-year-old.
Now he has a story to tell when Weston Goodwin, who’ll turn two in September, is old enough to appreciate the details:
You were there the night I rode No. 1,000. You were there in your stroller with your mother, Betty Jo, pushing you from paddock to grandstand and later the winner’s circle, just as you were most if not nearly every day I rode in Shakopee during the summer of 2016.
A story of achievement to pass from father to son, a small chapter of paternal family history.
A Minnesota story to be sure, since his home state is the only place Goodwin rides any longer. All summer in Shakopee and then back to Florida during the winter months, the 2-old-in training sales, maybe even to break a few babies in the spring before returning once again to Shakopee.
There is a six-week hiatus or so after the Canterbury meet at home in Bemidji before that departure for the Southeast.
That he has reached this milestone at all, Goodwin says, is attributable to good health, the ability to avoid serious injury and the accompanying long-term recoveries. And the way he divides his year with horses now and how he benefits from a respite. . “That’s another thing, when I come up here in the spring I’m fresh and ready to go again, to hit it hard again,” he said. “When I rode out east there were times I was riding day and night, for weeks on end. That wears on you. It did for me.”
The main thing, Goodwin says, is staying healthy, keeping his weight right and riding actively. “The lifestyle keeps you fit,” he said.
Granted, 1,000 winners pales in comparison to racing’s all-time leaders: Russell Baze 12,842, Lafitt Pincay, Jr. 9,530 or Bill Shoemaker 8,833. Yet, this achievement has its own place nonetheless, as a part of local racing, and an acknowledgment at the same time that the sport has changed immensely since many of its all-time greats were in their heydays.
It has changed as well for Goodwin, who once rode throughout the year, but restricts his riding any longer to the meet at Canterbury each year.
Goodwin grew up riding horses that belonged to his grandfather and fell into racing quite naturally, competing at county fairs as a youngster in northern Minnesota.
Now 41, he was a young teenager when he rode the winner in the 100th running of the Carlton County Derby at the county fair in Barnum.
He brought in his first winner as a professional on a horse named Moidre in 1993 at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg. The details remain clear for obvious reasons. The horse was owned by his father, Duane, and the mount was his 13th.
Goodwin rode for a decade or so in the East, primarily in Maryland, before returning home to ride at Canterbury Park in 2006.
Trainer Gary Scherer estimates that Goodwin has ridden 50 winners or more for him since he arrived in Shakopee. Scherer describes Goodwin as not only a hard worker, as a “real professional” but as a “great guy with a big heart.”
He also recognizes Goodwin’s expertise with young horses. “He’s excellent with babies. He can give you good insight on horses.”
There seems to be a growing belief among several trainers that Goodwin would be in the top tier of the jockey standings if he were riding the same caliber horse as frequently as those who regularly compete for the riding title.
Scherer, for one, says that Goodwin would have ridden his 1,000 winner some time ago if he didn’t restrict himself to Canterbury meets.
“I’ll bet he would have reached it five years ago,” Scherer said.
Five years ago, seven years ago or Thursday night, Goodwin reached this milestone right where he would have preferred, on a Minnesota-bred at the home track in his home state.