Walter Simmons has dedicated a lifetime to harness racing.
The 95-year-old Simmons has accomplished a lot during a career that spans 80-plus years, but there is one thing missing from his awards collection.
Simmons has yet to win Prince County’s most prestigious standardbred race, but he has two horses entered in Saturday night’s 52nd running of the Governor’s Plate, presented by Summerside Chrysler Dodge. Mantario and Bugsy McGuire, both owned by Simmons, drew favourable post positions for the $25,000 final at historic Red Shores at Summerside Raceway, which has hosted harness racing for 134 years. Mantario will leave from Post 3 and Bugsy McGuire has Post 4 in the eight-horse field.
“This will be my last chance (to win the Governor’s Plate),” said Simmons, who plans to attend the race despite admitting his mobility isn’t as good as it used to be.
“When you get to be 95, 96, you never how long you are going to be around,” he added with a laugh.
Track announcer and Summerside-based horse owner Vance Cameron said Simmons will be a sentimental choice. He agreed the final features a strong field but pointed out anything can happen in a horse race.
“I have been asked a few times if you had to pick one (individual to win the Governor’s Plate), it would be Walter Simmons,” said Cameron.
Wade Sorrie, who is training Bugsy Maguire, has trained Simmons-owned horses for around 20 years.
“He’s a die-hard horseman. It’s an honour to have one of his horses. You are not going to find any better owner.”
- Wade Sorrie
“He’s a die-hard horseman,” said Sorrie. “It’s an honour to have one of his horses. You are not going to find any better owner.”
Sorrie understands what it would mean for Simmons to accept the Governor's Plate.
“It would be indescribable how he would feel,” said Sorrie. “He’s wanted to win this race for a long time and he’s just had some bad luck and it hasn’t worked out.”
Post positions and drivers for Saturday’s Governor’s Plate:
- Hes Marvalous (Myles Heffernan Sr.)
- Rose Run Quest (Marc Campbell)
- Mantario (Kenny Arsenault)
- Bugsy Maguire (Brodie MacPhee)
- Screen Test (Corey MacPherson)
- Time To Dance (Adam Merner)
- Simple Kinda Man (Jason Hughes)
- Avatar J (Gilles Barrieau)
Started at a young age
Simmons began his harness racing career at a very young age. He was planning to drive for his father, Leslie, at the races in Charlottetown, but Col. Dan MacKinnon, who was in charge of the track, didn’t think he should because he was too young.
“I was 13,” said Simmons, who was awarded a lifetime membership to the Prince County Horsemen’s Club in 2019. “Dad said, ‘I will be responsible for him and he wants to drive.’
"I drove and got along all right.”
From that point on, there was no turning back for Simmons. Cameron described his good friend as a “giant” in the industry.
“If he could read your mind, you wouldn’t have to ask him to do something for you,” said Cameron. “He’s one of those guys and he’d help you out in any way he could.”
Simmons, who played a lot of high-level hockey growing up, said travelling to the rink helped develop his love for horses. He explained cars weren’t running at that time, and the only way to travel was by horse and sleigh.
Sorrie said Simmons is the type of owner who trusts the people working for him.
“Whatever your opinion is, he kind of lets you do your thing and hope it works out,” said Sorrie. “He would pretty well let you pick the horses you wanted.
“As long as you are fair to him, he’s fair to you.”