Robert Reeves Jr. and Paul Nolan continue their battle atop the jockey standings today at Assiniboia Downs on Victoria Day Monday and 2011 Horse of the Year Balooga Bull makes his 3-year-old debut in the third race against five rivals. First Post is 1 p.m.
The “Bull” is fast -- one of the fastest horses we’ve seen here in a long time. The early favorite for this year’s Manitoba Derby, he ran six furlongs here in 1:10 3/5 last year – the quickest at ASD in 2011. We can’t remember the last time a 2-year-old ever did that here. Paul Nolan, who is battling for the top spot in the jockey standings, will be aboard the Bull today, and he’ll be hoping to put some distance between himself and fellow newcomer Robert Reeves Jr.
Nolan has six mounts on the card and four of the six are major contenders. Reeves has eight mounts, four of which will be short priced. Nolan has won over 1,000 races and been leading rider at more than one track south of the border. The 32-year-old Reeves has never won a riding championship, but he has flashed talent throughout his 15-year career and it’s been showing up here lately.
Reeves won four races on a card here last Saturday to vault into the lead in the rider standings before Nolan came back hard at him this weekend. But Reeves has won four races on a card before, and he’s done it in good company. On May 6, 1998, during his second year of riding, he won four races on a card at Penn National. And on February 5, 2000 he won five races on a card at Beulah Park. Reeves had some good years early in his career and was actually on a roll last year at Mountaineer Park, winning 21 races before injuring his hand, which has now obviously healed up nicely.
It’s not surprising that Reeves got off to hot start here. He grew up in the heart of horse country in Cincinnati, Ohio, just down the street from River Downs, and spent evenings, weekends, and any other spare time he could find at the track, before graduating from Archbishop McNicholas High School. He was actually at a training centre in Ohio with his late father Robert Reeves Sr. long before he attended high school, and started getting on horses at the age of nine. Palominos, appaloosas, quarter horses, thoroughbreds – shed rowing, jogging, galloping, taking them to the starting gate, working with them in the stalls -- an exceptional base that should be required for every jockey.
“Mom (Rita) didn’t know I was getting on horses that young,” said Reeves “Dad was a trainer and exercise rider and trainer David Asbury was also like a father to me. I was in good hands.”
Reeves won his first race on his father’s birthday, August 4, 1997. He’s now one victory away from 350. He’s ridden in the shadows and learned from of some of the best jockeys in the business including Ramon Dominguez, Edgar Prado, Travis Dunkelberger and more, and won races at tough tracks south of the border including Beulah, River Downs, Charlestown, Pimlico Race Course, Mountaineer Park, Penn National, Turfway Park, Thistle Downs, Hoosier and Laurel.
Reeves was exercising horses in Florida getting ready to return to the Kentucky circuit this spring when he received a call from 4-time Assiniboia Downs leading-rider-turned-agent Tim Gardiner.
“Tim and Darren Dunn were looking for a rider and Travis Dunkelberger recommended me,” said Reeves. “I was enthusiastic. I’d never been to Canada before. It sounded like something fun and interesting and new.”
“I’m really glad I came,” continued Reeves. “I love it here. It’s a great opportunity for me. I couldn’t ask for a better agent and friend than Tim. And Darren’s a class act. They’ve really helped me to fit in. And the owners, trainers, grooms, exercise riders -- everyone has just been really good to me. They’ve given me a warm welcome beyond what I could have imagined. I just have to focus and work hard now.”
Reeves has been jogging around the track in his spare time in an effort to maintain his edge. He knows he has a chance to do something special here. And he certainly seems to have the right attitude so far, riding and winning for some of the top trainers here including Gary Danelson, Shelley Brown, Chad Torevell, Emile Corbel, Aaron Sayler and Carl Anderson.
“Being a rider is a privilege,” said Reeves. “I get two minutes out there to represent the hard work of the grooms, exercise riders, trainers, owners, everyone who has put their heart and soul into these horses. They work hard every day, seven days a week. They take great pride in their horses. I don’t want to let them down.”
“I just want to say thank you.”[youtube] http://youtu.be/OgznPSs2kk4 [/youtube]