By Mike Paradise
Through the years Springfield based trainer Tom Simmons and his wife Benita have owned outright or shared proprietorship with over 400 horses and most were ICF yearlings.
Some of those youngsters went on to do very well racing in Illinois for the Simmons stable such as former Orange and Blue Colt champions Brass Door (1992) and Froggy Turner (2007) and the sub 1:50 pacers Constant Change (1:49.4) and Glass Pack (1:49.4).
With seven former Super Night champions on the stable’s list of accomplishments it wasn’t a surprise to some Illinois circuit followers that the Simmons’ Fox Valley Herbie came away with the Incredible Finale 2-year-old crown on Hawthorne’s 2016 Night of Champions.
However, unlike in many of the past 25 years or so when Simmons had a number of ICF yearlings to bring along with Super Night championship aspirations in mind, last year Fox Valley Herbie” was “it” for Simmons.
“He was the only Illinois bred yearling we bought in 2015,” said Simmons, a 2006 Illinois Harness Hall of Fame inductee “There’s always a little bit of luck with these young horses. You might say we got lucky with Herbie.”
Like most of Simmons ICF freshmen Fox Valley Herbie did some racing on the Illinois County Fair Circuit. Between the Fairs and Hawthorne he dropped his first five decisions before capturing a division of the Illinois Stallion Stakes at the Charleston Fair with Simmons driving.
A son of Yankee Skyscraper out of the broodmare Hereshecomesagain Herbie ended up eighth in his first leg of the Incredible Finale Series and could do no better than fourth in his next leg. The youngster picked up his initial pari-mutuel victory on August 18 at Hawthorne and 10 days later he was second-best in the Governor’s Cup at Du Quoin.
Seven different drivers guided Herbie in his initial nine starts before Mike Oosting took over and had immediate success, winning the last Incredible Finale Series Leg less than a week later.
“Mike just seemed to click with the horse,” said Simmons.
“Herbie is a big colt but he was immature in the early part of last season. When I looked at him in the pasture before the sale he looked like a solid good looking horse. I basically bought him off his looks. The good things about the horse out-numbered the not-so-good ones so I took a chance on him”.
Herbie sold for only $2,800 to Simmons and went on to pull down $87,743 in his first season, winning 4 of his last 5 starts including the Cardinal Final at Hawthorne in his familiar late-charging fashion.
In his Cardinal elimination Oosting changed tactics and raced Herbie on the front and got nosed-out at the finish by Gabe Henry.
Herbie was victorious on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions when he came from tenth and last at the top of the lane. He ended his season at Hoosier Park, overcoming nine lengths in the last quarter (27 flat) of the mile with Sam Widger in the bike.
”He was a heart-attack horse to watch last year,” said Simmons laughing. “I’ve started back with him and he’ll be pointed for the 3-year-old stake series at Hawthorne.”
The Good Old Days: When Brass Door won the Orange & Blue Colt Final at Sportsman’s Park some 27 years ago the purse was $360,000. His stakes record time of 1:56.1 came on the first Super Night conducted on the Cicero, Illinois track’s new seven-eighths oval.
The last harness race conducted at Sportsman’s would come seven years later.