By Mike Paradise
Congratulations go out to long-time horseman Tom Simmons who will soon attain a very rare milestone for an Illinois based trainer. When Kelly D won Friday night’s first race it put Simmons one win away from his 2,000th winning horse as a trainer to go along with more than 2,000 winners as a driver.
Tom has 3,319 driving wins in his a long and distinguished career.
Simmons is the first Illinois horseman to achieve the fete since Joe Anderson accomplished it in the early part of this century when he was based in Illinois and dominating the trainer standings on the Chicago circuit and driving the likes of Big Tom, Ohyouprettything, Falcon Dakota, Million Dollar Bye, and Bingo Johnnie, just to name a few.
The 69-year-old Simmons began his driving career in the late 1970’s and by the mid and late 1980s he was operating a small stable while becoming a driving force in the Prairie State.
The Missouri native finished on top of the driver standings at Quad City Downs four consecutive years, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986 until some blonde kid from Wisconsin came to East Moline, Illinois and became new kingpin. His name: Dave Magee.
Simmons was always near the top of the driver and trainer standings at Fairmount Park, before the Collinsville, Illinois (near St. Louis) facility closed its doors to the Standardbred industry in 1999.
It was at Quad City Downs that Tom met his wife Benita, a track concession worker (the popcorn lady) and a big fan of her eventual husband of 37 years.
Benita was at Sportsman’s Park in 1992 when Tom drove Brass Door to the $360,000 Orange and Blue two-year-old colt championship on Super Night 1992. (That $360,000 pot is no typo).
“We had seven horses in that night, so I had to turn down a TV interview (Chicago Harness Racing) because I was so busy,” said Benita.
Simmons trained one of my favorite Maywood Park horses to write about in my 12 years there and that would be the ICF pacer Constant Change who loved the half-mile oval. Tom also had Glass Pack; a one-time Maywood Park record holder.
“Constant Change is my favorite horse,” said Benita. “He could really get around those Maywood turns.”
The son of the late Illinois stallion Cole Muffler earned almost $600,000 in his seven or so years of racing for Simmons and took his mark of 1:49.4 as a four-year-old at Springfield, where the Tom and Benita reside.
Froggy Turner delivered the Simmons’ stable the 2005 Super Night champion at Balmoral Park. Eleven years later, he also hit the bullseye with Fox Valley Herbie, that year’s Incredible Finale freshman colt winner on Hawthorne’s Night of Champion.
Simmons was inducted into the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2006.
A Winning Return: The Donna Holt trained Rock It Out (Kyle Wilfong) made a successful return to Hawthorne last night when she captured the $10,000 Open II Pace in 1:53 flat.
The four-year-old Rockin Image mare prevailed by more than two lengths over the late rushing Rollonbeauty (Atlee Bender) with My Uptowne Girl (Ridge Warren) taking third.
Rockin Image ($4.60) is owned by D and R Racing Stable of Benton, Kentucky.