Nik Goodwin got his first look at the backside of Canterbury Downs in late spring of 1986. His father, Duane, trained a single quarter horse and Nik, a fifth grader, spent the summer with him, cleaning stalls and hanging out on the backside.
His father and grandfather had raced in the bushes and at small fairs throughout Minnesota and the Dakotas, and that summer of ’86 was an additional step in the direction of the racetrack for the young Goodwin.
Natives of the White Earth Ojibway reservation in Northern Minnesota, the Goodwins moved onto a farm between Cass Lake and Bemidji when Nik was a third grader. A few years later, he wrestled at 103 pounds for Bemidji High School and advanced to the state tournament as a sophomore. He ran on the cross country team his junior and senior years.
He graduated with a 3.95 GPA, completing several college courses his senior year, something he relates to a listener with a sense of pride.
“I enjoyed school. I did well,” Goodwin said. He liked the racetrack, too. Ultimately, its allure was too strong to resist. He was 17 years old when he rode his first winner, his father’s horse Moidore, at Assiniboia Downs.
Five years later, in 1997, he was the leading rider there.
His racetrack Odyssey took him to Maryland, where he found success, to tracks along the East Coast where he did not and, finally, to a home in Ocala, Fla., where he has spent the winters breaking babies after racing at Canterbury summers.
He has raced in Shakopee since 2006, a return home so to speak, although he was sidelined seven weeks last summer with a broken collarbone and two broken ribs.
The injuries are unavoidable in his sport. He was sidelined six months in 1995 after breaking three vertebrae in his back at Pimlico Race Course. “I was second in the standings to Edgar Prado when it happened,” Goodwin added.
It’s been a special week for Goodwin. His wife, Charity, and son Hunter, who’ll turn one on Wednesday, are here visiting. A second son, Layne, 4, is spending the summer here.
Meanwhile, their father is enjoying a productive summer with eight wins thus far on thoroughbreds. He is leading the quarter horse standings with 11 wins.
“I’ve been fortunate,” he added. “I’ve been riding good horses. I appreciate the opportunity.”
Goodwin is toying with the idea of racing somewhere when the Canterbury meet ends, although he hasn’t ruled out a return to Ocala where he has a home. Summers in Shakopee, enticing as they’ve become, are even more alluring now with the purse enhancement from Mystic Lake Casino.
“Everyone is more hopeful now,” he said.
Canterbury, of course, is its own special attraction.
“I like it here besides,” he said. “This is a beautiful facility, as nice as any around the country,” Goodwin added. “Plus management here has a lot of promotions attracting the younger generation… and families. Who knows, a youngster who watches the races here might one day become a rider, or a trainer.”
For now, raceriding is Goodwin’s ambition. The future? Who knows.
Maybe he’ll take a cue from his father, Duane, the one-time horse trainer who now teaches art at the Tribal College in Cass Lake and whose limestone sculpture of an Ojibway woman occupies a spot at St. Paul’s Mounds Park.
Maybe he’ll end up back in northern Minnesota, hunting and fishing. “It’s a beautiful place,” he said. Plus there is the attitude of the people in his native state.
“Minnesota nice,” he said.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.