BY JIM WELLS
A mere nine days remain of the 2016 race meet. Quarter horse trainers have packed up their trailers and moved on, some of them south to Prairie Meadows where you can find the 2016 champion Jason Olmstead among others.
Yet this summer’s quarter horse riding champion is still in Shakopee, still riding thoroughbreds as he’s done throughout the meet, still chasing a milestone 1,000th win.
Nik Goodwin has had a productive summer all around, winning 19 quarter horse races for his third riding title in Shakopee and is now within six wins of tying Ry Eikleberry for the all-time record.
Six wins to reach that goal. Ten to reach 1,000 wins on thoroughbreds. Now only the latter is attainable yet this meet, not insurmountable but a tough assignment just the same.
“You never know,” he said. “I won ‘t rule it out. Maybe I can get lucky and win a couple here and there. Maybe I can get it done.”
Goodwin credits the opportunity to ride for good barns, a variety of barns, for providing the path to another riding title. “I got a good start and rode all summer for good outfits,” he said.
Olmstead, who won a second consecutive title, was one of the outfits. He and Goodwin have known one another for some time.
“I used to ride against him,” Jason said. “We’ve been friends for a long time.” Goodwin’s success, as Olmstead sees it, is the result of hard work and dependability. “When he says he’s going to do something, he does it,” Olmstead said. “He’s as reliable as they come.”
And once in the saddle, he’s willing to listen as well.
“Some riders don’t hear a thing you tell them,” Olmstead added. “Nik listens and you saw what happened in the Futurity on Festival Day because he did.”
Olmstead had the favorite in the race, PYC Jess Bite My Dust, and Goodwin’s mount, Vodka at Midnight. He instructed Goodwin to keep his horse alert, to stay into her because, as Goodwin put it, “she gets a little lackadaisical.” Olmstead was merely instructing Goodwin that if the favorite made a mistake he could win the race. Goodwin kept his horse’s head straight, didn’t let her waiver and the result was a trip to the winner’s circle in a $50,000 race.
“I told him when I legged him up what I thought of the horse and how to ride. I just gave a few pointers and it paid off. He listened,” Olmstead added.
When you talk to trainers about Goodwin, they are in near unanimous agreement about his abilities on two-year-olds, often a bit frisky if not fractious, in the paddock and particularly in the gate.
There is a natural explanation for that ability in Goodwin’s mind. He spends most of the winter months breaking babies and riding during the sales in Florida, where he and his wife have a home. He has developed a knack for understanding young horses, their tendencies and idiosyncrasies.
Goodwin is a native Minnesotan and intends to spend some time at his parents farm in Bemidji before heading south to Florida, a routine he has followed for several years.
Goodwin was around his grandfather’s horses as a youngster, learning to ride at an early age, and later around his father’s race horses. They have always been a part of his life and as an adult have figured prominently in his livelihood.
As many Minnesotans do, Goodwin, his wife Betty Jo and their toddler, Weston, headed out to the State Fair the other day. Mom and dad are familiar with the sights, of course. Weston got an introduction to the lights, sounds, smells and general ambiance of the great Minnesota get-together, something likely to stay lodged in his sub-conscious until he feels compelled some day to introduce his offspring to the annual festival.
Now, the Goodwins will head north for another Minnesota experience, the turn from summer to autumn, before making their way back to Florida in late October or early November.
Although Goodwin is not averse to riding a few races during the winter months, he has to be assured of live mounts to make the ninety-minute drive from Ocala, where he’s stationed, to Tampa.
So, what’s the best way to describe this itinerant profession?
Perhaps quarter horse trainer Jerry Livingston sized it up best with his analysis of the rider.
“Nik? He’s very dependable and if you can get that, you got it made,” Livingston said. “He’s good and always has been. I guess he enjoys his job.”