•Trainer Chuck Simon Back at Saratoga, 7/27•
It has been almost a decade since Saratoga Springs native Chuck Simon has raced horses on a consistent basis at Saratoga Race Course.
Now, the 48-year-old trainer is back home and hopes to make an impact on the meet with his small stable in Barn 30.
"Saratoga is a special place," said Simon, who has entered Oklahoma Den in the eighth race July 26, a $75,000 New York-bred allowance at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. "I thought I had a couple of horses that fit well up here. It's a little break in the schedule for us. Obviously, if you have the horses that can compete up here, then it's worth it to take a shot. For me, coming home is a big incentive. My family and friends are here."
Simon worked on the backstrech stable areas of both the harness track and Saratoga Race Course during the summers as a teen, went on to graduate from the University of Arizona's racetrack industry program—where he was a classmate of perennial Saratoga leading trainer Todd Pletcher—and then became assistant racing secretary at Yonkers Raceway. After two years, he left to begin a career as a trainer, apprenticing himself to Pete Ferriola and Tom Skiffington, as well as Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, and the late H. Allen Jerkens, for whom he worked for 5 1/2 years.
In 1999 he went out on his own, training primarily for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, and won five races from 31 starters at Saratoga. He won his first stakes at the Spa in 2000, when Saratoga Sunrise took the West Point Handicap, and was a regular every summer for years, with his horses earning nearly $1 million with a record of 21-21-25 from 166 starters at the Spa.
Not long after finishing second with Top Royale in a claiming race on August 27, 2007, Simon decided to pursue other interests in the racing business. In 2013, he made a one-race appearance at Saratoga, with Oklahoma Den finishing seventh in a New York-bred maiden race.
"I never stopped training," Simon said. "My barn got cut down quite a bit after 2006, 2007, and 2008, because I was working on a barn project in Kentucky. I bred a couple of horses and sold them. The farm life wasn't my deal."
Now, after having trained at Penn National, Monmouth Park, and on the Florida circuit, Simon is looking for opportunities at Saratoga.
"I am looking to claim a couple of horses up here," said Simon, who, in addition to Oklahoma Den, has brought the maiden filly Killer Bird and two-time winner Xaverian to Saratoga. "We are trying to find horses with a little bit of potential or looking to do something different, like racing on the grass or perhaps running a little bit longer. I am looking to claim quality horses."
While Simon is excited about the meet, it is also a difficult one for him with the loss of Jerkens, affectionately known as "the Chief", who passed away in March.
"It was really sad," Simon said. "For me coming back this year—the first time in a long time to come back here, period—it's also the first time being here without him. I would see him after checking on my horses. There are a lot of great memories there. Every day with him was an adventure. One of the things about the Chief is that he was a brilliant horseman. He was so knowledgeable about horses in his own way."