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Like Father, Like Son (02/10/13)

Posted Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013

                                               By Mike Paradise

  The expression “Like Father, Like Son” is fitting for the newest member of the Illinois Harness Hall of Fame trainer Dirk Simpson. His father “Buddy” was enshrined in 2002.

  “For me to follow dad into the Illinois Hall of Fame is something very special,” said Dirk who is being inducted Sunday night at the Illinois Harness Horseman Association’s annual banquet in Alsip.

  The 55-year-old Simpson has been around harness horses since he was a toddler.

  “Dad was away from horses for only the two years he served in the Army after he was drafted in 1951 and he’s still going strong in the horse business at the age of 82.

  “Since he couldn’t afford to pay someone to shoe his horses dad learned to do it himself and became a Ferrier for 16 years,” continued Dirk. “In the middle ‘70s he became a full-time trainer and of course I followed in his footsteps.”

  So did Dirk’s younger brother Clay who has been a longtime partner with his father and a major contributor to the success of the family operation, located just east of Fairfield, Illinois.

  After graduating college in 2004 Dirk’s son Brandon got into the harness racing business full-time. By 2007 Brandon became one of the leading driver’s on the Chicagoland circuit before leaving for the east coast in early 2008 after the purses in Illinois started to drop dramatically.

  Dirk is in his 24th year as a trainer and he headed into the 2013 season career 910 winners. The Springfield based conditioner’s horses will go over the $10 million plateau sometime this season.

  Through the years Dirk has developed and raced a bevy of champions and I asked him what horses stick-out in his mind?

  “I’ve got two of them in my barn right now in Trot Fudge Sundae and Powerful Poe,” he replied.

  “Of course there was Pardon ($301,413) who was one of the best a couple of years ago. The trotter Before He Cheats ($676, 679) was a good one. There was Dreamaster ($767,636) and Champion On Ice ($266,660), the horses who really got me going. Some others were Mystical Victor ($326,762), Arc Welder ($313,116) and Customize ($366,005) and Mystical Michelle ($339,116).”

  The filly Trot Fudge Sundae and her stable-mate Powerful Poe were the runaway winners in their respective state-bred freshman trotting divisions in 2012 and Dirk is obviously looking forward to racing both in their sophomore seasons.

  “I felt when we got Trot Fudge Sundae during the early summer she was going to be a real good trotting filly but she exceeded our expectations,” said Simpson. “To dominate the division the way she did in her first season went beyond what we thought she was going to do.

  “We brought ‘Poe” along slowly and pointed him for the big money stakes later in the summer and fall. He went out and did everything we asked and more.”

  Trot Fudge Sundae won 10 of 13 first season starts with 2 seconds and became the first Illinois-conceived and-foaled horse to win the American National 2-year-old filly trot in its long history. Powerful Poe captured his last five freshman starts which included the Lincoln Land and Cardinal championships and a Hanover stake.

  Dick began driving horses in 1977 and has 723 career dash winners. While he seldom drives on the Chicago circuit, you can usually find him in a sulky at Springfield, Du Quoin and on the County Fair Circuit.

  At times during the summer Dirk does drive against his father Buddy.

  “When we’re in the same race it’s every man for himself,” said Dirk laughing.

  Off the track, it’s a father and his son perhaps musing over their Hall of Fame careers.

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