His nickname is ‘The Black Cat’ and many horse racing fans know him that way or as trainer-driver Richard Simard, and he is ready for plenty of action this season as the Hippodrome 3R opens for live harness racing on Sunday.
Simard is a household name in Canadian harness racing. The native of Montreal has had a superb career in the industry. Currently he has 5,695 career wins and earnings as a driver with the horses he has driven at just over $29 million.
And this season he is planning on being at the Hippodrome 3R every live race day. Simard has been driving mainly at Rideau Carleton and a few winters at Pompano Park, but announced earlier he will be at H3R this year.
“It is a beautiful half-mile track.” Simard says. “It was on the old track in the 80’s when I first started my career. I won by first race in 1982.”
Already there is a demand at H3R for Simard’s services as he has drives in eight of the nine races on the opening day program. One of Simard’s drives is with Joels Legacy from Post 4 in the fourth race. Simard also trains and owns the pacer.
Usually a “catch-driver”, Simard has been training and owning horses off and on throughout his career. While his driving statistics are very impressive, he has only 77 career wins as a trainer.
“I remember once coming to H3R in my younger days,” Simard recalled. “It was with a really bad horse that kicked all the time. I can’t remember its name but I knew he was no good. I remember the trainer was Denis Labelle and I trucked him, paddocked him and drove him. I started in first place and finished last, but made it home alive!” Simard laughed.
“Later on down the road I did have a lot of success at H3R driving for the Tourigny Stable,” Simard said. “I think it will be very good to be back at Trois-Rivieres full-time this season. I showed up some days last year, but I think with the support of some owners and trainers I will do well this summer.”
Simard once said in an interview that his nickname 'The Black Cat' (Le Chat Noir in his birth province in Quebec) dates to when he would volunteer to drive ill-gaited or aggressive horses, and later, for his driving suit colors dominated by black.
Over the years, Simard has overcome some serious accidents on the racetrack and even a ruptured appendix, yet always makes a triumphant return to racing. Perhaps he is very well-suited to the nickname ‘The Black Cat.’
Trainer Maxime Velaye set for big season
Trainer Maxime Velaye was second in the trainer standings last year to Yves Tessier and had won the title the prior year. He has had a good winter and is ready for H3R action all season long with a barn full of possible stakes winners.
“I did have a nice winter,” Velaye explained, “but now it’s better that spring is here and with the racing season starting I’m really excited about it. We will qualify some horses this Wednesday and plan to start racing them the following week.
“Our top four-year-old I have big expectations for is Sports Authority," Velaye said. "I think what we saw last year is just the beginning of something 'special' and he has been nominated for the Prix D’Ete right here at H3R too.
“We will have some very good young horses at H3R this season,” Velaye stated. “Our three-year-olds have been in 2:25 and I have three including the star of the barn, Capteur De Reves, and he is doing really well."
Velaye also has six two-year-olds in training, all currently in the 2:45 range.
“If you ask me to pick who’s better for now I say the trotting filly Papillon Bleu by Muscle Mass. She’s got all the tools to make it. And a pacing filly, Lune Bleu, by Big Jim...she’s gutsy and loves her job. We all know this is still very early in the season to know who is gonna be good or not, but time will tell!
“We are staying very calm until they start racing,” Velaye said, “and we will we know what stock we have. It should be a great season at H3R!”
Racing gets underway Sunday with a 12:50 p.m. first race post time.
TRACK NOTES: Management at H3R developed a great :30 ad promoting the start of the new race meet
Last year’s leading driver, Louis-Philippe Roy, will not at be at 3R on Sunday, electing to drive at Rideau Carleton. Three of the nine races Sunday have ten starters and four races have nine starters. New this year is Superfecta wagering in every race on the program and the late Daily Double is now taking place in the sixth and seventh races.
(with files from the Quebec Jockey Club)