BY JIM WELLS
“She would put on her game face,” said Sherry Nolan. “She would tuck in her chin, her nostrils would flare and she would expand herself…she was a little bitty thing.”
Nolan – Sherry Honsvall at the time – was Northbound Pride’s groom the magnificent summer of the filly’s three-year-old season. Northbound Pride was chosen Canterbury Downs’ three-year-old filly of the year after the 1989 meet, having won six of seven races, including three stakes, falling short of a perfect meet by inches. She was nosed out as Horse of the Meet by the remarkable Hoist Her Flag and is enshrined in the Canterbury Hall of Fame.
Nolan came to calling Northbound Pride “pootie,” a diminutive not linked to anything in particular aside from genuine affection. “I don’t know why,” she recalled. “I guess she was just such a little “pooter.”
A native of Bloomington, Nolan had grown up with a love of racing, learned at the knee of her grandfather on visits to Winnipeg. “He was a huge horse racing fan,” she said. “We would go down to the drug store, buy a Racing Form and then we’d be off on the bus to Assiniboia Downs.”
“We learned how to hotwalk, bandage a horse’s legs correctly, about conformation, how to spot lameness. I had a huge notebook filled with stuff. It was a wonderful class,” Nolan said.
It prepared her to care for a horse like Northbound Pride when trainer Mike Tinker presented the opportunity that summer of 1989.
Nolan needed everything she learned and some inherent resolve and spunk as well.
“More than anything, I was struck by her indomitable spirit,” Nolan said. And… that appetite. “She ate more than any horse in the barn, even the big boys. And she was so messy when she ate, I had to clean up her stall constantly.”
There were also those long spells between races, when Northbound Pride was beside herself, overcome with energy.”Sometimes we’d be waiting four or five weeks between races,” Nolan said. Pootie would let her handlers know that she was bursting inside. “She was so energetic. I’d come out of the stall after caring for her and I was sweating,” Nolan added. “Mike Tinker would be laughing. Some days I’d come flying out of the stall. I’d say, ‘for God’s sake, work her. She’s ready.’ ”
Northbound Pride was nearly always ready… as her past performances illustrate. She won 11 times, was second nine times and third nine times from 38 starts with earnings of $213,983. She raced 22 times at Canterbury, seven times at Oaklawn Park, eight times at Arlington Park and once at Louisiana Downs. She ran in open company on every kind of surface available at the time, turf or dirt, dry or wet and at any distance from a short sprint to a route of ground.
She will be honored with the Northbound Pride Stakes on today’s card.
A daughter of Proud Pocket from the Our Native mare Our Trelawny, Northbound Pride was bred by the late Dr. Vic Myers at his Northbound Farm near Stillwater. She was injured the autumn of her three-year-old season while training for a race in Kentucky, suffering a slab fracture that sidelined her the next 18 months. She was still competitive when she returned as a five-year-old but went into decline about the time Canterbury went dark and was retired to become a broodmare, without the success she had at the racetrack.
Northbound Pride was killed in a freak accident last July at Shamrock Valley Farm, where she spent the last few years of her life. Bob Dainty, who owns the farm with his wife, Lisa, still gets a lump in his throat when he recalls that fateful evening.
Northbound Pride and her companion mares began running during an intense thunderstorm and the daughter of Proud Pocket was pushed through a fence into unfamiliar pasture. She continued running in the dark of the storm and hit a tree headlong, dying instantly.
“She hit that tree like a locomotive,” Dainty said. “She tore the bark right off it. It looked like it had been hit by a car.”
Dainty started digging a grave for the champion mare at 10 a.m., not completing the task until 9 p.m. “Those five companion mares stood in a row, side by side, the entire time and never left their spot, watching the entire process,” Dainty said. “I know… I know it was out of reverence.”