August 28, 2016 – Nirvana Seelster
A bargain purchase from Standardbred Canada’s Horses For Sale Board, Nirvana Seelster has proven to be a hard-knocking, Saturday night specialist for longtime participants Bill Budd and Bruce Davy. By Keith McCalmont
Iron horse. By definition, a steam locomotive. But the descriptive term implies much more than that. New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig earned the nickname ‘Iron Horse’ by running up a streak of 2,130 consecutive games played.
The label conjures up images of strength and endurance, and in the case of Preferred pacer Nirvana Seelster, there’s also the matter of unrelenting speed.
“He leaves with the car, eh?” notes trainer Bill Budd of the five-year-old Camluck bay, who has been charted with multiple sub :26 second opening quarters including one in :25.1 on December 26, 2015 at Woodbine.
So, what else is so special about this hard-knocking Preferred pacer?
Well, for one thing, the late bloomer, since starting his career in March of 2014, has raced every month, never had any time off, and has become a regular winner at the top level. His next start will mark the 100th time his name appears in the racing program, and with a record of 22-11-20 and purse earnings of $462,096, he’s become something of a cash machine for owner Bruce Davy.
While an internationally recognized iron horse like multi-millionaire Foiled Again deservedly earns much limelight, Nirvana Seelster has proven to be a star in his own right for the 77-year-old Davy who looks at horse ownership as a hobby rather than a business.
Nirvana Seelster was purchased for $77,000 as a yearling, on October 13, 2012, at the Forest City sale by Dave Menary, but the horse was slow in developing. In January of 2013, the colt was posted for sale on Standardbred Canada’s Horses For Sale Board, at the modest price of $6,500.
“He was listed on the ‘Horses for Sale’ board and I really liked his breeding,” said Davy of the gelding who is out of the productive Western Hanover mare, No Strikes Against. “I watch the board all the time. It’s something to do. I like to see what the prices are and what’s available, it’s a pastime.”
Nirvana Seelster passed Davy’s class test and was purchased, sight unseen, and sent to the care of the veteran conditioner, Budd, to see what could be done with the underachieving youngster.
It was a long road to the races for the lanky fellow, with a few breaks along the way, but he’s now a proven commodity.
“He’s raced against a lot of the top horses,” said Budd. “He raced against Wiggle It Jiggleit and Ian Moore’s good horse State Treasurer, the Canadian (Pacing) Derby winner, who he even beat one night at Mohawk. He’s won the Preferred three or four times and beat Zeron’s good horse, Shamballa.”
It would seem that Nirvana Seelster has proven to be worth the wait.
Patience pays off. Patience is a virtue. And patience, for the most part, is something many people preach but fail to follow through with themselves.
Nirvana Seelster, with his massive frame, needed time to come good. The rich yearling purchase missed his entire two-year-old season and managed to break stride in his first qualifying attempt, as a three-year-old, on the half-mile track at Flamboro Downs.
“He lacked confidence,” explained Budd. “I just had to get the feel with him. I didn’t train him tough. I just went a slow mile with him nearly every day for 30 days. He just kept getting more confident.”
And so, Budd stayed patient and waited for the horse to come around. Day after day he brought the big fella out to the half-mile training track at Stephenson’s Training Centre in Flamborough and put him through his paces.
If it sounds easy, it isn’t.
Consider this: statistics show that 75 percent of people who sign up for a gym membership in January, manage to visit about six times before quitting.
Nirvana Seelster, with Budd as his trainer, was no quitter. The duo carved out the winter training miles, through sleet and snow and ice, and the pupil learned his craft the old fashioned way.
For Budd, a 64-year-old native of Waterdown, Ontario, hard work was a way of life growing up on his family’s dairy farm, which also happened to stock a few horses.
Budd knew from a young age that pushing paper wasn’t going to be his calling.
“I went to school but I didn’t like it. I’d always want to be on the farm. I’d go in the front door of the school and sneak out the back door to get home to the horses,” he laughed.
In 1969, Budd went to work for Bill Wellwood and soaked up an education in horse racing.
“I worked for Bill for about five years and then I went out on my own,” said Budd, who has 1,834 wins and $16.5 million in purses as a trainer and another 1,837 scores and $4.6 million as a driver. “I’ve had some good horses over the years like Sir Luck ($1.2 million) and Boulder Creek ($3.8 million). Boulder Creek was an iron horse and this horse here, ‘Nirvana’, is something like him. He just loves to go.”
And although it didn’t seem like Nirvana Seelster wanted to go at first, now that the train is on the track, this iron horse doesn’t want to stop. It’s an attribute ‘Nirvana’ shares with his soft spoken conditioner.
“I love the job,” said Budd. “It’s all I do and I’ll do it as long as I can.”
Davy, now retired, continues to grow blueberries on his farm in Brockville, Ontario, the City of the 1000 Islands.
After visiting Rideau one night with a group of friends back in the early 1980s, Davy was bitten with the racing bug. A horse, Creekside Lisa, was up for sale and Davy dove right in and enjoyed immediate success.
The modest pacing mare won 17 times.
And now, at the age of 77, Davy has plucked the sweetest berry of his 30-year career in ownership with Nirvana Seelster.
“He’s by far the best horse I’ve ever owned,” said Davy, who watches the races from his home computer most nights. “He keeps me up each Saturday night, but there’s nothing nicer than being involved with a winner.”
Nothing about this story is an overnight success. Both Davy and Budd are many decades into their careers, and Nirvana Seelster couldn’t even figure out how to pace until well into his three-year-old season.
So, it would follow suit that Nirvana Seelster is far from the first horse Davy bought off the Standardbred Canada Horses for Sale Board hoping for a winner.
“I’ve bought close to a dozen, but this is the only one we’ve had any kind of real luck with. We’ve waited a while for one like this,” said Davy. “Some we tried for a while, but they weren’t paying their way so we sold them. It’s the same as anything else. When you go through a yearling sale, you look at the breeding but you don’t know for sure how a horse is going to do.
“And it’s the same thing on the ‘SC’ board,” continued Davy. “Maybe someone has tried a few things with a young horse, but it didn’t work out for them. And I like to think, maybe somebody else has the secret.”
It turns out that time, hard work, and perhaps a special bond between horse and trainer, proved to be the magic that helped Nirvana Seelster thrive.
It’s a game that Davy enjoys and will continue to play.
“It’s a gamble and you have to enjoy it or else you wouldn’t do it,” said Davy. “For the most part though, I like the game for the people I meet and friends I’ve made along the way.”
The five-year-old Nirvana Seelster recorded his career mark of 1:48.1 as a four-year-old, on the surface of Mohawk, where he has developed into a familiar name. In August, he will once again be in the mix for the lucrative Canadian Pacing Derby…a race that he qualified for the final of in 2015 (finishing 9th to State Treasurer).
He has the talent to play with the big boys, mainly on the bigger circuits, having broke stride twice and getting beat by over thirteen lengths the other time, in three trips over the tighter half-mile oval at Flamboro.
Although Nirvana Seelster has yet to notch an added-money score at the top flight, there have been many smaller successes along the way. His best streak of racing, arguably, occurred in February of 2015 when he captured the Ontario Boys final, completing a series sweep by winning each leg on the front end.
He hasn’t always been so one dimensional, though. In fact, it wasn’t until his 22nd career start that gelding pacer with the wicked gate-speed was ever on top at the quarter.
“One night, at Mohawk, in a Sires Stakes, he was last turning for home and he won by a nose. He paid $104 to win,” recalls Budd of the 2014 OSS Grassroots Semi Final. “But, these days, he seems to want to push the car out and he cuts some wicked fractions. He likes to do all the work.”
It’s likely that the strapping gelding, who closed to be third in his Canadian Pacing Derby elimination last year, will be part of the pace scenario in the series renewal this August.
Win or lose, Budd knows that ‘Nirvana’ will leave it all out on the track.
“I really couldn’t ask for much more out of the horse. He’ll give you whatever he’s got. He’s already won this year in :49.1 and I think he’ll pace in :48 again before the year is out,” said Budd.
[Editor’s Note: Nirvana Seelster won on August 27 at Mohawk Racetrack in 1:48.3]
Always in the mix and rarely the favourite, racing fans would do well to keep Nirvana Seelster front of mind as the summer heats up in case of another long shot score.
“He can be overlooked at times,” notes owner, Davy.
Perhaps, on the tote board, but he hasn’t gone unnoticed by fellow horsemen.
“I’ve had so many phone calls from people wanting to buy him,” said Budd. “But, Bruce always says, ‘we’ve gone this far, we’re just going to keep him’.”
And why not, he’s a good thing who came to those who waited.
By Keith McCalmont