BEST JOCKEY Minneapolis 2008 - Paul Nolan
Jockeys are best known to the general public for being diminutive. But what really distinguishes people who race horses for a living from the general populace is an absolute disregard for their own physical well-being. Broken fingers, crushed ribs, and dislocated toes are simply part of the day-to-day mix. Any jockey who retires without a half-dozen permanent physical maladies didn't win many races. But even by these daredevil standards, Paul Nolan has led a particularly star-crossed career. In 1995 he suffered a broken back and punctured lung. The next year he broke his shoulder. In 2004 his leg was snapped. The next year he broke a vertebra in his neck. "He just keeps bouncing back," says Canterbury Park track analyst Jeff Maday. "Every year it's something." Nolan's latest injury put him on the shelf for the better part of a year. But despite the long layoff, he returned to Canterbury Park in 2006 in career-best form, winning his first jockey title at the Shakopee track. Last year Nolan narrowly missed out on defending that crown, but along the way he reached a milestone that's rather remarkable considering his lengthy list of hospital visits. On July 21, Nolan piloted Hurricane Bernie to his 1,000th victory in the $45,000 Canterbury Park Lassie Stakes. Veteran trainer Jamie Ness, who often saddles up Nolan on his horses, attributes this success in part to his absence of bodily fear. "He rides hard and takes a lot of chances," says Ness.