A horse race might last only a couple of minutes, but by the time jockey Paul Nolan flashes by on a thoroughbred at Canterbury Park, he's already put in a long day. Nolan, 48, hits the track at 6 a.m. six days a week for several hours, working horses at near racing speed and making his case for future mounts. He's back at the track for actual races four days a week (Thursday through Sunday at Canterbury Park), making up to 10 starts a day. "It takes it out of you," says Nolan, a native of England and a Bloomington resident who has lived here since he married his wife, Sherry, a Minnesotan, in 1990. Nolan has more than 1,000 career victories and was Canterbury's top rider in 2006. The turnaround from Friday night's last race to Saturday's early workout and that afternoon's races is particularly grinding, Nolan says. "I like winning races every day, but the winning I enjoy most tends to be the races on a Sunday because you've got Monday off," says Nolan, who has been racing a solid schedule since September. He was top rider at Sam Houston Race Park in Texas for the most recent fall/winter meet. Nolan keeps his weight at 110 to 112 pounds. He works out on his NordicTrack, runs in a park near his home and sometimes wears a rubber sweatsuit to keep his weight down. Nolan has avoided major injuries since he broke a vertebra in his neck in 2005 at Canterbury. His worst injury was a broken back suffered in 1995, which briefly left him paralyzed and kept him out of action for 18 months.
The son of a jockey, Nolan grew up in a horse-racing family. "It's what I was born to do," he says. And Nolan’s numbers provide the proof. He is third in lifetime wins at Canterbury with 646 (through 5/23) and third in lifetime earnings with mounts he has ridden earning $7.7 million.
Three and out with jockey Paul Nolan
- How competitive are jockeys?
Here we've got 17 riders so we're like 17 teams in one locker room. Some guys you're not going to like. If things happen in races, there'll be a lot of arguing and sometimes, you'll hear of fists flying. If one guy gets hurt (in a race), everybody will band around, help the guy out and his family. We're a pretty tight group but we're also out there to do our job and win races
- Do jockeys trash talk?
One guy would come into the jockeys' room and flex his muscles and go, "Come to the gun show!" I was in Texas one meet ... I actually caught him just before the wire and won the race while shouting, "Gun show!" In the heat of battle, you're not going to do that but when things are going a little easier in a race, you can do it.
- Any horses you’ve ridden with funny or memorable names?
I won two on a mare called Mental Block, and believe me, the name fitted her. I won on a horse called Frenchy Cool Pants. I won my first one on Matchless Counsel.