Celebrity Status delivers surprise milestone win for Roland

by James Platz

Nick Roland scored his 1,000th career win as a trainer on Thursday (June 6) at Running Aces thanks to the efforts of homebred Celebrity Status. However, Roland, who was slated to steer the sophomore, was absent from the sulky and the winner’s circle. He learned of the milestone as he watched the races from home, where he was resting after an incident in the paddock earlier on the card.

“We were unhooking a horse after warming up earlier,” Roland said. “One side was unhooked and the other side was still hooked, and she tried to get away. I popped my shoulder out. It’s happened before. It’s nothing new. Actually, I had no idea that I was close to [the milestone]. I went home to get some ibuprofen and Tylenol. If I had known I was close, I would have at least been there for a picture.”

It’s been an interesting journey for the fifth-generation horseman, with Running Aces playing a pivotal role in his success. Roland always had his sights set on working in the industry, but instead of jumping in fresh out of high school, his parents urged him to go to college. He did, graduating with a business management degree. The Iowa native took an office job, but didn’t find satisfaction there. Recording his first starts as a driver and trainer in 1998, the call of racing was hard to resist.

“I worked for an insurance company for a year,” he said. “After being able to put myself through college with no loans, just racing horses, I was miserable. Working at an insurance company and not being out in the barn, I quit after about a year. That happened to be in 2008 when Running Aces was opening. My sister and I grabbed a couple horses from my grandparents, and I still had two or three horses, and mom had a couple horses. We headed up to Minnesota.”

Roland has become a fixture at the Columbus, MN, oval, regularly driving and sending out winners. Unbeknownst to him, he was on the verge of a record entering last Thursday. Sitting on 999 wins, Celebrity Status, piloted by substitute reinsman Luke Plano, led gate-to-wire to pick up the win in Minnesota sired Class A competition. On the screen, Running Aces celebrated the milestone. Roland’s reaction?

“It made me think, gosh, I’m old,” said the soon-to-be 42-year-old, with a laugh. “I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

Starting the season in California, Roland has sent out 34 winners in 2024. With 5,330 career training starts to his credit, just under 50 per cent have hit the board, earning more than $5.4 million in purses. As a driver, he is closing in on 2,300 career wins and $11 million in money earned.

It was at Cal Expo in February that the previously winless Celebrity Status collected his first victory. The gelded son of Vlos—Wild About Eagle made 11 freshman starts, registering two runner-up finishes and a pair of third-place performances. One of those second-place efforts came in the $65,000 Minnesota sired championship. Although Roland calls the sophomore a late bloomer, he also admits he was careful in bringing the pacer along due to characteristics displayed in other offspring from the son of Dragon Again.

“That’s kind of the reason why we were so slow bringing him around,” he said. “In my experience with the Vloses, if you get them tired or hurt their feelings too early, they can really get sour fast. I’ve seen it before with others. They are able to go fast, but they are just easy to put a kink in early. I’ve seen some that pace in [1]:56 as a 2-year-old, but then they’ll never go faster than that their entire life.”

After careful management last year, Celebrity Status broke his maiden in his second seasonal start at Cal Expo. In fact, his first two wins came in California Sires Stakes action. He would finish second by a head in another leg.

“He’s just been getting better and better,” Roland said. “When we got to California, he had matured quite a bit and put things together. He won the first couple legs of those Cal-eligible sires stakes. He had a little bit of a filling in a leg, so we missed the third leg. But he’s just been coming around.”

Celebrity Status was bred and is owned by Set The Pace Racing LLC, a partnership between Kenneth Stauffer and Roland’s girlfriend, Jessica Johnson. He is the fourth foal out of The Panderosa mare Wild About Eagle, a six-figure earner that won 33 times over seven seasons. She took her 1:54.2 speed badge as a 6-year-old for trainer Steve Wiseman.

“She was one of Stevie’s favorites,” Roland said. “She wasn’t even on our radar. Steve was done racing her and he said, ‘This is a tough, tough race mare. You need to take her and breed her.’ We bought her just because Steve said that we needed to. She’s been a great mare for us.”

Wild About Eagle produced Alilthundadownunda, a half-brother to Celebrity Status that was named 2021 Minnesota Horse of the Year. The 39-time winner is still racing, with just shy of $400,000 on his card. While Celebrity Status doesn’t possess the credentials to match big brother, as of late he has tangled with the best in Minnesota’s 3-year-old pacing colt division and won.

In the first Class A leg, held May 30, the gelding took control after the quarter and eased to a 2¼-length victory with Roland at the lines in a time of 1:56.2. In the June 6 performance, Plano, substituting for the injured trainer, placed him on the lead and kept him there, stopping the clock in 1:54.3 and shaving nearly two seconds off his lifetime best. The victory was the fourth of the season for Celebrity Status. The pacer has hit the board in eight of 12 starts to date, earning $44,727 and pushing his career bankroll to more than $71,000.

“I didn’t know how fast he would have to go,” Roland said of the win. “I knew the week before when he won by almost three that he was totally shut down halfway down the stretch. I knew he could go quite a bit more than that, I didn’t know he was going to have to go in [1]:54 to beat them. I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t know how fast he would have to go, but I knew he could go quite a bit more.”