This week we remember two promising young apprentices who got their start at Assiniboia Downs in the 1960s, Bobbie Dimma and Vernon Sayler.
Most of us are familiar with "Bobbie". Yes, that's how his name appeared on his birth certificate, Bobbie not Robert, Bobby or Bob!
On July 2, 1965, Dimma got his first win at the Downs aboard Stoneacres Farm's Runnin' Wild, but it was during his bid to win the leading apprentice title in 1967 when his life crossed paths with another young up-and-comer, Vernon Sayler, the older brother of Downs 11-time leading trainer, Ardell Sayler.
The see-saw battle of '67 ended with 17-year-old Sayler nosing out 23-year-old Dimma 26-24 in the win column. In 1968 Dimma reversed the outcome and registered 54 wins to Sayler's 36, but that would be the last year the two would compete against each other at the Downs.
After 62 wins in the two short seasons at Assiniboia Downs, Sayler moved on to try his hands at tracks south of the border. In 1969 he rode in Chicago, where he gave a good accounting of himself. Dimma, on the other hand would go on to have a great 13-year career at the Downs, amassing 518 trips to the winner's circle.
Cruel fate intervened in Sayler's career in 1971, and the young, talented saddlesmith from Aberdeen, South Dakota was denied the opportunity of the multi-year career he so rightfully deserved.
Was he destined for greatness? You bet!
He was already an accomplished rider. Sayler's winning ride in the 1967 North Dakota Futurity at the Downs caught the attention of one veteran jock who remarked that Sayler whipped his mount five times coming out of the gate, something which even some experienced riders couldn't do.
Sayler's early career accomplishments spoke for themselves:
1967 - Leading apprentice rider at Assiniboia Downs and Park Jefferson.
1967 - Leading rider at Atokad.
1971 - Leading rider at River Downs.
Tragically, Sayler was killed in a plane crash in July 1971. The leading rider at River Downs was on his way from Sioux City, Iowa to Cincinnati, Ohio where he was to ride in a stakes race the following day.
Sayler rode for his brother Milbert and our own Bert Blake during his two years at the Downs, while trainer Ardell Sayler's future at Assiniboia was still years away. Vernon Sayler's final win at our local oval came on August 2, 1968 when he piloted Valley's Girl to victory.
The young Sayler was a "good-looking kid" with fine riding skills and a strong will to win. A polite, likable individual, Sayler worked hard, showing up every morning to gallop horses.
Brother Ardell proudly professed that Vernon, his older brother by two years, was a talented rider who had been around horses his whole life. Vernon rode his first horse at the age of five and was a natural in the saddle!
Fate gave Bobbie Dimma that which young Sayler was denied, the chance at a life-long career in a sport he loved!
Bobbie Dimma was born July 10, 1944 in Forestburg, Alberta. He rode four-baggers on at least four occasions at the Downs: July 8, 1968, July 1, 1971, June 3, 1972 and May 19, 1973. The highlight of Dimma's career came in 1972 when he and Bobby Stewart tied for Downs' top jockey honours with 62 wins each.
Dimma rode some dandy horses here, such as Ruling Lark and Glorious Pete, but few were better than Don and Lorna Gray's Rangatira. Dimma said that he worked harder at trying to slow Rangatira down than he did at trying to get other horses to run.
Bobbie's son Gerry said that one of his fondest memories was standing by the rail watching his father bring a horse down the lane to finish first. Murray Howell, son of veteran trainer George Howell, said that Dimma was his Dad's "go to" guy.
Dimma was a gifted rider and a good friend to many. How did his friends describe him?
"personable, classy guy, likeable, fearless, strong rider in the stretch, polite kid, happy-go-lucky, laid back, superior bull-ring rider" and last but not least "he never had an enemy in the room."
Bob passed away in April 2014. He would have been 70 this past July.
Vernon Sayler and Bobbie Dimma, two young and promising apprentices, are now gone.
But they will never be forgotten!
Historian Note: All-time Downs' leading trainer Gary Danelson celebrates two special anniversaries this week. He turns 77 years young on August 28, and August 29 marks the 55th anniversary of his first ever win at the Downs, - with a horse named Coherence.
Congratulations Gary, from all your friends here at Assiniboia Downs!