Sayler also led all trainer’s by money earned with purse earnings of $389,949. His win percentage of 22.32% is particularly impressive because he often ran coupled entries. To cap the year off, Sayler achieved his 1,000th career training victory in 2011.
His stars included Balooga Bull (Flashy Bull- Proud Crusader, by Crusader Sword), an undefeated two-year-old that he purchased at the 2010 Fasig Tipton Kentucky yearling sale for the princely sum of $2,000 for American owner Paul Brandt. The bay gelding won his maiden and then reeled off three stakes victories culminating in the $50,000 Winnipeg Futurity. This youngster was so impressive that California interests made an offer of $450,000 for him. Brandt declined.
Sayler and Brandt are hopeful that Balooga Bull will take them all the way to the 2012 Manitoba Derby, the province’s signature race that, remarkably, Sayler has yet to win.
Sayler also campaigned two nice three-year-olds during the 2011 meet: U R Burning Daylight who won two allowance races and the Golden Boy Stakes, and Gotatigerbythetail who won an allowance race and finished a competitive third in both the Harry Jeffrey Stakes and the $75,000 Manitoba Derby.
Sayler, 59, grew up on a farm in South Dakota along with four brothers; Vernon and Bernie (who both later became jockeys) and Jim and Melbert, who were too big to ride but entered the racing profession as thoroughbred conditioners. Sayler’s introduction to Assiniboia Downs came during the 1968 race meet when he accompanied Vernon and Jim who wanted to try their luck north of the border. He worked in Jim’s shed row as a groom and exercise rider, while Vernon had a successful meet finishing second in the jockey standings to six-time leading rider Bobby Stewart.
The Sayler brothers returned to South Dakota and raced at Park Jefferson. In 1970, Jim trained for Bill Mott (a multiple champion trainer) who was, at the time, too young to be licensed as a trainer. Jim finished atop the trainer’s standings and Vernon was leading jockey. Interestingly, legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas was also at Park Jefferson in 1970 running a string of quarter horses.
Sayler took out his own trainer’s license in 1978 and for the next 12 years plied his trade on the South Dakota and Nebraska ovals. His arrival in Manitoba came thanks to a fateful meeting with Jim and Hazel Wright, former owners of Assiniboia Downs, in 1989 at a Nebraska paddock sale. The Wrights planted an idea for Sayler to try his training skills in their province and he jumped at it. He showed up at the 1990 meet with 18 horses. He rapidly grew his operation and won his first trainer’s title in 1994.
Sayler’s modus operandi is to purchase a dozen or so inexpensive yearlings at the Fasig Tipton and Keeneland fall and winter sales and work his magic. He is an avid student of breeding and has a keen eye for conformation.
The Sayler racing operation is truly a family affair. Ardell and his wife Jan, who recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, along with their children Aaron and Nicole, all play a large part in the daily operation of their farm and training center near Rapid City, South Dakota. The homestead has a half mile oval with a starting gate and is home to more than 60 horses during the winter. All the breaking, preparation, and training of the juveniles takes place under Sayler’s watchful eye. Aided by his son Aaron, who is also a trainer, the new crop of babies are well schooled and ready for the race track when spring arrives. Sayler’s prides himself on the fact that his two-year-olds early and are never over raced.
Although Sayler runs a public stable, he has an ownership interest in the majority of the thoroughbreds that he campaigns. He knows that in this business you are always learning and he never lets his ego get in the way of heeding good advice. When asked if he had anything new planned for the 2012 meet, he replied that he wanted to pick up a couple of decent older horses and maybe breed a foal or two in Manitoba. He remarked that he had his eyes on trying to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the growing Manitoba-bred incentive program. This will be the 22nd consecutive year that Sayler has raced at Assiniboia Downs, including a brief time around 2006 when he threatened to leave the business.
“I love the game and I love the thrill, the work and the worries,” Sayler told the Winnipeg Free Press. “There are a lot of other things I could have done, but would I have enjoyed it? No. I enjoy this.”
And. with another exciting group of runners ready to take the stage in 2012, the Sayler dynasty at Assiniboia could easily continue.