With nearly 36,000 lifetime drives, Trevor Henry has sat behind his share of talented horses including a number of O’Brien Award winners and those owned by members of his racing-rich family. But when asked about his all-time favourite, it’s neither an O’Brien winner nor a family horse. It’s Nirvana Seelster.
“I forget the statistic on him but since he qualified he’s raced like 150 starts and he’s never really stopped,” Henry told Trot Insider. “He’s only qualified like once or twice; he’s so tough. He’s there every week. Lots of other great horses get the winter off but this horse is there every week.”
Last Saturday (Sept. 8) Nirvana Seelster finished third in the $34,000 Preferred Pace at Woodbine Mohawk Park, just beaten by three parts of a length. His share of the purse cheque pushed his career earnings over the $1 million mark.
The story behind harness racing’s newest millionaire isn’t a traditional well-bred horse winning multiple stakes story, either. While no slouch on the pedigree side, the $77,000 yearling purchase by Dave Menary was placed on Standardbred Canada’s Horses For Sale board where he caught the eye of owner Bruce Davy.
“[Dave] trained him down as a two-year-old; as he was turning three he wasn’t proving to be what he wanted so he listed him on the Horses For Sale board. And I picked him up pretty reasonably.”
To put it lightly, ‘pretty unreasonably’ is one massive understatement. Nirvana Seelster was plucked from the Horses For Sale Board for just $6,500. Davy got the go-ahead from trainer Bill Budd, who is stabled at the same training centre as Menary.
“Bruce called me and said ‘take a look at that horse’ and I said ‘I think you better buy him,'” Budd told Trot Insider. “He said ‘you think so?’ and I said ‘yes’. Dave had 20 calls after that.”
Being at the right place at the right time, Budd took over the training duties and took his time with the horse. According to Davy, Budd gave Nirvana Seelster the confidence he needed to be a solid racehorse and “he just kept improving and improving.”
As a three-year-old, Nirvana Seelster qualified twice in March 2014. He made 32 starts as a sophomore, amassed a summary of 7-2-9 while banking $108,256 and picking up a mark of 1:52 at Mohawk.
“That family, they really come around as four-year-olds if you look them up,” noted Budd. “They’re not good two-year-olds; Dave paid a lot of money for [Nirvana Selester] and he was no good when he wanted him, and he’s got to move on. That’s the way it goes.”
As an older competitor, the lines clearly illustrate that Nirvana Seelster approaches his work with machine-like consistency. The start total over the last three full seasons: 44 (at four), 38 (at five) and 37 (at six). And each year, his earnings have increased. Modestly staked, Nirvana Seelster’s 2017 bankroll of $290,000+ was bolstered by a second-place finish in the Mohawk Gold Cup and a fourth-place dead-heat finish in the Canadian Pacing Derby. That race remains the only constant stakes engagement on Nirvana Seelster’s resume. Davy noted that’s an exception as the event becomes a family affair.
“My nieces and nephews come, and some longtime friends come. There was 30 of us there this year,” stated Davy, who faces a four-hour drive to Mohawk from his Brockville, Ont. home. “We have dinner and celebrate with them. He didn’t do that well [this year] but he raced, that’s the main thing.”
Nirvana Seelster has a habit of doing well when he races, so the odd off-the-board finish like his eighth-place result in the 2018 Canadian Pacing Derby can be excused. In fact, those races where he doesn’t bring home some purse money are few and far between. In the last two years, Nirvana Seelster has made 64 starts and has picked up a cheque 57 times — an 89 percent success rate. Career-wise, the son of Camluck-No Strikes Against sports a 39-30-33 summary from 179 starts and a 1:48 speed badge taken at Mohawk last September.
The principals behind Nirvana Seelster each have different ideas on the secret to his success but one aspect remains common: his extraordinary will to compete, with driver Henry stating that the seven-year-old “tries every start.” Budd agreed, giving credit to his staff for the job they do keeping the stable star in stellar form.
“Breeding shows, the Camlucks were always very good racehorses. He’s just a great horse; he tries every race.”
This Saturday night, that effort will be tested by one of the most heralded horses to ever emerge from the Southern Hemisphere: Lazarus. The connections are fully aware the task at hard is taller than most Saturday night Preferred Pace appearances. No matter the outcome on Saturday, the connections are thrilled to have their millionaire pupil once again set to compete. Budd stated that “you couldn’t get a better owner” than Davy, who credits Budd with the sage management of the best horse he’s ever owned.
“We’ve had a lot of luck,” said Davy. “He’s been a good horse for us and he’s done a lot of things. He’s changed lives, really.”