Jockey Nik Goodwin grew up in Bemidji, Minnesota as well as in the sport of thoroughbred racing. From the bush tracks of northern Minnesota and North Dakota, to Canada, California, the East Coast and the south, Goodwin has ridden everywhere and nearly every stage of horse development. Though he has gained a well-earned reputation as a rider of young horses, 2017 has been a milestone year for Goodwin on other fronts: he became the all-time leading quarter horse rider in Canterbury history as well as riding his 1000th thoroughbred winner. Goodwin joined us this week “In The Paddock”.
MWPR: How did you get started riding horses and in racing in northern Minnesota?
Goodwin: My dad’s family was involved in racing horses. He was a trainer and I grew up with racehorses on a small level in northern Minnesota and North Dakota. I rode the bush tracks in places like Ft Pierre, Aberdeen, Barnum, MN (Carlton County Fair) before I could legally ride at the bigger tracks.
My first win ever was in the 100th running of the Carlton County Derby. It was 1991 and I was 15. It was really special and a lot of fun. I grew up cleaning stalls for Steve Kane and I learned a lot from so many folks.
I rode my first professional winner for my dad when I was 17 in Winnipeg on a horse named Midori on August 4, 1993.
MWPR: How did your career develop?
Goodwin: I went to the west coast first. I was leading bug in Winnipeg in 94. I sent my tapes to Eddie Delahousay’s agent in California and he gave me the name of another guy named Nick Cosado and he handled my book at Santa Anita and Hollywood. I went from riding this small track in Winnipeg to Santa Anita.
It was a really big transition because I went from being a child watching all the big races to riding with the guys that I idolized. I was with the greats, the Laffit Pincays, the Eddi Delahoussays. I didn’t really do the best out in California and Kent Desourmeaux’s agent Gene Short said to me “Nikki, you need to go to the East Coast. I’ll get you lined up with a good agent and go to the east coast.”
They got me lined up with a great agent, Gordon Becraft, and we did really well together. I was second in the jockey standings at Pimlico when I went down in a spill and broke my back so I was out for six months. I was able to come back, finish my bug and decided I wanted to go back to college.
I had a full academic scholarship to Bemidji State. I was going to major in business and accounting. I decided in the year that I was there that this wasn’t my passion. My passion was riding horses. So I gave my scholarship away, went back to the east coast, and had a lot of successful years riding in Maryland in the late 90s/early 2000s. I managed to get myself tied into the 2-year old in training sales and from there decided I wanted to come back to my home state of Minnesota. It took me a few years to break back in here but I’ve developed a good client base and I’ve been very fortunate with the people that put me on horses.
MWPR: No matter who you speak with here on the backside, you have a reputation for being great with young horses.
Goodwin: Babies are like children. You need to know when to be firm and know when to lean on them and develop them. I’ve been very fortunate. Whatever it is I do, they respond to me.
I have really good clients down in Florida. Niall Brennen is one of my biggest clients and Mike Ryan is one of his. I breeze a lot of their horses at the sales. They’ve put me on Nyquist, Palace Malice – some really classy horses.
It’s a really rewarding feeling that you’ve been part of their development and helping them make the transition from babies to race horses when you see them go one to win big races and be successful.
MWPR: How do you manage your career with three young boys?
Goodwin: First and foremost my family means the most to me in my life. I try and strategize my career to be able to spend the most time with my boys. I enjoy winning races and all that comes with that, but the moments I spend with my sons – fishing with them, doing the things with them that I did with my own father – those are the best moments. Being a father is more important than anything.
Usually I take a month or so up in Bemidji with my folks – hunting, fishing, picking wild rice, help get them ready for the winter. I have a good friend, trainer Jimmy Chapman, who wants me to come ride in Kentucky when our meet is over. In fact, I’m going out to ride the West Virginia Derby for him in a couple of weeks on Heartwood. I worked Dortmand for him at the sales and other horses for him all over the country at the sales this year. He wants me to come to KY to ride for him this year after our meet is over so I may only take a couple of weeks off in Bemidji this year.
MWPR: Your wife, Betty Jo, is looking to restart her riding career after an absence.
Goodwin: She is a very accomplished rider. She and I ride side by side all winter long at the sales. She does a wonderful job with the horses. Minnesota is a tough spot to break back in. You have riders and trainers that come in from all over the country and if they don’t know you already it’s tough. But she works for a great outfit in the mornings [trainer Joe Sharp] and she’ll do well. She deserves more credit than she gets for being a good rider. She is a great hand on a horse.
MWPR: This has been a milestone year in many respects. What are your thoughts on this season?
Goodwin: It’s really been a great year. A lot of milestone and I’m very lucky to have the strength and confidence of owners and trainers that put me on both breeds. To be able to compete near the top here on both breeds is really rewarding. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to make the best of my opportunities whether it’s young horses, older thoroughbreds or quarter horses. Thanks to the opportunities I’ve had I’ve been able to develop into what I think is a well-rounded rider that can do a lot of things.
MWPR: Word is that you have a talent away from the track.
I do a lot of art work. I do a lot of Native American art. I like bead work and watercolors. I’ve won numerous awards back in high school doing stone sculptures. Finding the time is a little more difficult and between riding and raising the kids, the artwork takes a back seat for now. But I can do that when I get older. That and fishing – I’m a passionate fisherman.