By Scott Taylor
One of the giants of Manitoba thoroughbred racing, owner/trainer Ardell Sayler, has passed away.
Sayler died Sunday in Winnipeg of an apparent heart attack. He was 66.
“Our community is shocked and saddened by his sudden passing,” said Downs CEO Darren Dunn. “He was an icon in Manitoba racing.”
Sayler was a 12-time champion trainer at Assiniboia Downs and among his most successful horses was the great Balooga Bull, the 2012 Manitoba Derby champion by a massive 9 ½ lengths. Balooga Bull was also the only horses to win the Gold Cup three years in a row (2012-2014) He also raced at Fonner Park in Nebraska and Turf Paradise in Phoenix.
“The accomplishment of 12 leading trainer titles will never be surpassed, let alone equalled,” said Dunn. “That is a milestone for the ages in the history of thoroughbred racing in Manitoba.
“Balooga Bull, a multi-year champion horse, will always be recognized at Assiniboia Downs as one of the greatest horses to ever race in Winnipeg and will rightfully help form part of the deserved legacy that Ardell had.”
According to Dunn, “In my opinion, accurately stated that the Sayler family will move to form, in the near future, a final strategy for the sale of all of the horses.” There were 40 horses in his barn this season.
Sayler was always proud of the fact that he could go to the big yearling sales in Kentucky and find bargains. He’d often wait hours until the end of the sale when all the hose-buying whales had called it a day and find a hidden gem. That’s how he got Balooga Bull for $2,000.
He also bought last year’s Canada Day Stakes winner Girl Boss for just $11,000 in Kentucky in 2017. And he bought Hey Hey Renee for $3,200 and she won $120,745 before being sold for $280,000.
His friend, Assiniboia Downs’ historian Bob Gates, was stunned by Sayler’s passing.
“First and foremost, our hearts and prayers go out to Janet, Aaron and the rest of the Sayler family,” said Gates. “The immediate loss is devastating, but what will be immeasurable is the ripple effect that will be felt for years to come. The first thing that comes to mind is all of those babies who won’t have Ardell Sayler to bring them along. My, but he excelled with the young ones. Nobody did it better.
“Beyond racing, there’s more, so much more. At days end, once his barn was put to bed, Ardell could be seen, sitting at a table in the Club West Lounge with at least a dozen friends socializing until it was time to call it a day. He was larger than life and will be missed.”
Gates once wrote this about Sayler:
“Sayler was born in Ellendale, North Dakota to Fred and Emma Sayler on June 16, 1952. Fred Sayler was a buyer and seller of horses and as a result, Ardell has been around horses his whole life. Actually, horses and racing are just a part of the family gene pool.
“Ardell’s first trip to the Downs came years before he started training at the local oval. He came to the Downs in the ‘60s with his trainer-brother, Melbert. In addition, older brother, Vernon rode at the Downs in the late ‘60s. It would be several years later, 1990 to be exact, before Ardell would sell his sweeping business and move his training operation to the Downs.
“These days Sayler calls Rapid City, South Dakota home, and a record-setting 12 leading trainer titles later (1994, 1997, 2000-2002, 2004-2006, 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2014), he sits in second place behind Gary Danelson in terms of all-time wins at the Downs. But no one has won more leading training titles than Sayler. His closest rival is the now “retired” Clayton Gray, who won seven training titles at the Downs.”
Amazingly, Balooga Bull, now 10, had been working out this spring and there was talk he might make a comeback at the Downs. As of today, Balooga Bull has 16 wins, three seconds and one third from 27 starts. The Bull earned $334,076 in purse winnings.
Sayler won more than 1,300 races and $8 million in purses at Assiniboia Downs. His first win came as an owner, when he was just 15 years old, in 1967. His first win as a trainer was with a horse named Hay Bomb at Jefferson Park on June 15, 1980.
“The loss to the local racing scene quite frankly is the kind from which you simply never fully recover,” said Gates. “The big man from South Dakota had a huge personality and that’s what I’ll miss – Ardell was a friend.”
After he won his 1,300th race last year, Sayler was asked about his future ambitions.
“My goal is to win 1,500 races,” he said. “But I’d also like to find a really fast horse. That would be a real treat if I ever got one to go to the Breeder’s Cup.”
He didn’t get a horse into the Breeder’s Cup, but his legacy at Assiniboia Downs will last forever.