Trainer Perry Simser’s name is not one that you’ll find atop the trainer standings at Saratoga Casino Hotel. In fact, it’s been a while since the veteran conditioner has been among the leading trainers at a track. Simser has always tended to manage a small-to-medium size stable as opposed to the trainers who would be among a track’s top trainers. Two things he has always done, though, is produce strong, young horses and win. The long term success of the veteran conditioner resulted in his induction into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame last week.
Simser, like so many in his era did, grew up in harness racing and followed his father into the business. A native of northern New York, Perry is a fourth generation harness horseman. With his family’s stable competing both in Canada and in the U.S., Perry got used to traveling to race and actually grew to enjoy the treks from track to track. Perry graduated from high school in 1975 and at that point decided to work full time for his father. Soon after, now helping to manage a larger size stable, Perry started to head south for winters, first to North Carolina and then to Florida’s Spring Garden Ranch where he still trains to this day. Simser isn’t the kind of trainer who has many, if any, claimers. No, instead he has spent the majority of his career concentrating on young horses with competing in the New York Sire Stakes circuit as a priority. With a focus on quality more than quantity, Simser has always tried to keep his stable size to around a dozen or so.
Perry did plenty of driving when he was getting his start in the business and served as the primary driver for his father’s stable. He picked up catch drives along the way and in fact competed against the best of the best while racing in some of the top races in North America including the Breeders Crown when in ’91 and ’92, he sat behind Super Speedy for fellow Saratoga conditioner Guy Roemer. Simser, though, spent so much time on the road and because he wasn’t a fixture on a nightly basis at the Spa, didn’t do a lot of catch-driving. “I catch-drove some and enjoyed it,” Simser told me. “Traveling made it tough to be one of the guys that would be out there seven or eight times a night. I was here for a night then I wasn’t. Eventually, I turned over the reins to catch-drivers on our own horses as well. With all the talented, full-time drivers out there, it just didn’t make sense to be competing against the top-flight guys who are out there all the time.” Simser, who does have close to 1,000 wins as a driver in his career with purses earned of over $4 million, does recognize an early highlight in his career being when he drove his father’s Turnatrick to a Grand Circuit victory back in 1982 when the two year old filly became the first Saratoga-based horse to win in the Grand Circuit in seven years. “That was special,” Perry recalled. “The Grand Circuit is what it was all about back then. It was great to do it here at Saratoga with one of our own horses. That was the ultimate.”
While a more than capable driver, it is training where Simser built his now Hall of Fame career. Focusing primarily on the New York Sire Stakes with young horses, Simser splits his year between Florida and New York. He considers Florida to be home at this point and that’s where he trains throughout the winter months as he preps his young horses for the summer grind. Simser has produced numerous Sire Stakes winners over the years including two who achieved greatness, winning the NYSS Finals on the Nights of Champions. Trotting filly Yankee Spirit won the Final for Simser in 1994 and went on to compete in the Hambletonian Oaks the following year. Pacing colt Yankee Precept finished second in the stakes final despite drawing post eight in what was a big effort. Perhaps ironic that much of the Mets fan Simser’s success has come with a pair of “Yankees.”
Simser thrived in Sire Stakes competition with several fillies over the years, enjoying success with such distaffers as Flip For Love, Esther’s Joy and trotting filly Goodlookngirl. Up Front Kellie Jo was a stakes star for Simser and following a sophomore season in which she earned close to $200,000, she became an Open sensation at Saratoga. In 2010, at the age of four, Up Front Kellie won the Fillies and Mares Open five times and had three seconds in the Friday feature in just nine total tries. She was named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year at Saratoga that season for her efforts. Simser had Up Front Kellie Jo in her two, three and four year old campaigns. She retired after the 2016 season with earnings of over a million dollars.
Yankee Spirit gave Perry his first ever Sire Stakes championship in ’95 and fast forward 22 years and the recent Hall of Fame inductee got another. Simser acquired Jersey Jim as a yearling and broke him a baby. The veteran conditioner immediately spotted the pacer’s talent level but ability doesn’t always translate into success. In this case, it all came together for Jersey Jim who at the age of two competed nine times and won four of them. Hitting the board in seven of his nine starts as a freshman, Jersey Jim pulled off an upset in the $225,000 Sire Stakes championship in October. The freshman pacer was last at the three quarter pole when he wielded three wide and powered past his rivals for a victory that wrapped up a sensational two year old campaign for Simser’s most recent stakes star. Jersey Jim has begun his title defense this season and though he did record a win at Saratoga in a dazzling 1:53, the sophomore is off to a slower start in the Sire Stakes portion of his year. “He’s run into a little bit of tough luck early in the year. He was super when he won in 1:53 here but between getting some bad breaks and facing such tough competition, it’s been a grind. It’s tough enough as a two year old but the competition in the three year old season is just at a different level, especially for pacers. He’s still racing well and feeling good. We have full belief in him,” Simser said. In over 3,600 career starts as a trainer, Simser has recorded over 500 wins and earned purses of more than $5 million. On Tuesday evening (June 12), the veteran horseman was inducted into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame as his career achievements were acknowledged on a beautiful night in front of a crowd of supporters at the Jefferson St. Hall of Fame. Pacer Rebel Aaron was the 2018 horse inductee into the Hall while Susie Saxton was the annual Virginia O’Brien Memorial 110% Award recipient. This award honors those who devote their life to the sport of harness racing, such as a groom or backstretch worker who might not otherwise be in the limelight. The Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame is currently open from 11AM-3PM on Thursdays-Saturdays and adds Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting on July 20th.
Live harness racing takes place every Thursday and Sunday afternoon at Saratoga beginning at 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!