03/13/2010 12:00AM

Sam Houston riding title in sight for Nolan


Jockey Paul Nolan has been a force in the Sam Houston Race Park standings since the meet opened back in November. Now, with an 18-win advantage heading into the final three weeks of the meet, his goal of winning his first title at the track is well within his grasp.

"That's my main objective right now, to keep my nose in front," Nolan said.

Through the years, Nolan has had several close calls in the race for leading rider at Sam Houston. But this season everything has fallen into place for him. He is a regular aboard horses for two of the meet's leading trainers, Danny Pish and Karl Broberg, which has helped lift Nolan to 57 wins through Friday night. He also leads all riders in mount earnings with $493,187.

Nolan, 47, has reached a number of milestones at Sam Houston. He won his first graded race at the track back in 2008, when he guided Scrappy Roo to victory in the $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf. Nolan also won three stakes on a card during the Texas Champions Day program in 2007, including the featured $100,000 Star of Texas with Sandburr. This meet, Nolan's highlights include scoring last weekend with Scrappy Roo. He has also ridden three different horses to three straight wins each, Diva d'Oro, Rocks N Rings, and Huntersrunaway.

"To get the title would really mean a lot to me," Nolan said. "Houston is one of my favorite tracks, and to get the title at one of the tracks you like going to is a big deal."

Nolan is a native of Rugeley, England. Growing up, he expected to follow in his father's footsteps and become a steeplechase jockey. To prepare for such a career, he started out riding flat races in England at the age of 18.

"My father said if you get on the flat, you'll learn to finish on a horse better," Nolan said. "It will help you later."

Nolan ended up remaining in flat racing, with a goal of working in racing in North America. An opportunity to gallop horses for trainer Carl Nafzger came along in 1987, and after spending three years in that capacity Nolan resumed his race-riding career in 1990.

He set up shop at Canterbury Park, won a riding title there, and later on branched out to Sam Houston. He said he was able to carve out a niche at Houston with the support of such trainers as Charlie Hukill, John Locke, Michael Stidham, and Mindy Willis, and has now made it an annual stop. And these days, Nolan is looking to spend even more time in Texas. Nolan said he and agent Travis Church have decided to test the waters this spring at Lone Star Park, which opens on April 8.