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The Nine Lives Of Richard Simard

Published: May 7, 2021 12:23 pm ET

Last Comment: May 12, 2021 1:24 am ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

A rejuvenated Richard 'the Black Cat' Simard has journeyed across the continent and braved many obstacles to land back in the eastern Ontario-Quebec circuit, which he's now content to call home.

“When I started, I never thought I’d make it that far because I have no family in the business,” the first-generation horseman recently told Rideau Carleton Raceway's Graeme Mitchell. “But like I said, I’m a hustler and I’m a worker. I never give up. I’ve left with my bag not knowing if I’d have a job, if I’d have food on my table next week. You keep trying. I guess I’ve been everywhere [and] I’ve always survived. It’s a tough business not made for the weak people. If you’re weak, don’t go into the horse business [laugh].”

Simard has driven in nearly 40,000 races and won close to 6,000; he’s just 31 wins away from the milestone, and has earned $32,803,701 in purses from a career spanning almost 40 years. Although the numbers speak to Simard’s success, the veteran horseman at many times hit a groove just before he’d be forced to start from scratch.

“When Blue Bonnets [in] Montreal closed the track, I went bankrupt,” Simard said. “And then I moved to Florida [because] if I’m going to be broke, I’m going to be broke where its warm. When you move on from one track to another, you lose business. I came back to Rideau in the summers and [as] you’d get back in business, the fall was coming and I was going back to Florida. So that’s what chilled my living, but that was my choice, no? At Windsor, I was the leading driver there. I moved, that track closed. I went to Montreal, I was doing good again; the track closed.”

Racetracks closing stymied Simard’s living on numerous occasions, but he also has bounced back from several racing accidents and has broken almost every bone in his body at least once. Simard remembered one accident, which happened at Flamboro Downs on a snowy night.

“I was driving for Kevin McMaster at Mohawk, and he asked me to go drive one on Sunday at Flamboro,” Simard said. “And that night — that horse never made a break in his life — I left to the front, and I felt him slip. I lost him and everybody ran me over. I don’t even remember hitting the ground; I was knocked out before I hit the ground, a horse behind me hit me. It was two weeks I didn’t even remember my name. I remember going to [the] hospital in Toronto, and the lady that was the doctor told me ‘I’m sorry to tell you, Mr. Simard, but we just checked all your broken bones and the x-rays… I don’t think you’ll make it to 50 without being in a wheelchair.’ And now I’m 62 and it’s going to be my best year.”

At 62, Simard sits second on the driving standings at Rideau Carleton Raceway, which stopped racing on March 28 in accordance with the third Ontario shutdown. From 64 starts, Simard has won on 16 occasions and sits just behind Guy Gagnon. The new wind for the Les Cadres horseman also comes as he has taken action to care for whatever of his body has not been broken by injuries.

“I go to massage therapists twice a week when I’m racing, try to keep me in shape,” Simard said. “I will give you 150 percent every time I sit behind one. My body couldn’t handle it before. A couple of years back, I was in pain every night I drove. Before the pandemic, I was going back to the gym. And I stopped smoking — that really changed my life.”

With his newfound strength, Simard has also taken up training for Quebec's Orlando Stables. He doesn't plan on moving his tack any time soon, and he's also conditioning some young horses with high prospects.

“I took that job two-and-a-half years ago,” Simard said. “Everybody said ‘You won’t last two weeks’ and it’s going to be three years in August. This gentleman has had horses the last 50 years, and all he has is his own breeding. But he goes with the best studs around, he keeps his same mare. This year I have another colt I’m breaking from a different mare. They’re all well-bred horses, they’re all trotters. He’s not in a hurry. He’s just dreaming of getting that world champion....I live on the farm, it’s like a pension plan for me. That’s why I’m not in worried about moving everywhere else. But the thing is, if we can’t race, he’s going to give up. If he gives up, that makes me out of a job, too.

“The old horses that he’s had for years, they’re all trotting in [1:]58, [1:]57,” Simard also said of Orlando Stables’ horses. “I can move anywhere and know I can make a living with those horses. But this year I have two two-year-olds that really impressed me up to now. The babies I have are all staked [at Mohawk] and I have a filly that’s down there so I might go down to drive them. But I’m not going down there. I’m staying right where I’m at.”

Graeme Mitchell’s full interview with Richard Simard is available below:

May 12, 2021 - 1:24 amI was 18 yrs old and racing

Joel G SAID...

I was 18 yrs old and racing at Windsor and Hazel Park. I became friends with Richard and he used to let me drive him to race tracks out of town. He taught me a lot. One of the best drivers the sport has ever seen. I was one of a couple guys that had some shirts/hats made up for Richard's 3,000th win. The hats said congrats on 3000 Le Chat (the cat).


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