80-year veteran horseman finally takes home P.E.I.’s coveted Governor’s Plate
Walter Simmons, a lifelong horse owner and harness racing enthusiast, has finally fulfilled his dream of winning P.E.I.’s coveted Governor’s Plate.
This July, the 52nd running of the race at Red Shores Summerside Raceway was billed as one of the most exciting ever as all the competitors had a strong chance at the title. However, Simmons’ horse Bugsy Maguire was the fan favourite as everyone knew how much it would mean to the owner to finally win. Driver Brodie MacPhee shared in the victory, in his first racing season since 2014.
Lee Drake, manager of marketing and brands at Red Shores, was doing the race broadcast and said the energy following Simmons’ victory was nothing short of amazing.
“In the owners’ tent after the race, there are all these people who were just competing against each other 30 seconds earlier, and then they are all greeting one another and chatting away,” Drake said. “They were honestly all so pleased that Walter finally, after all these years, had this dream come true.”
The tradition of harness racing in P.E.I. goes back to 1888. Drake describes the sport as part of the very fabric that makes Island culture what it is. Dubbed the Kentucky of Canada, P.E.I. has exported some of the very best trainers, drivers and horses in the harness racing industry.
As for Simmons, harness racing has been a part of his identity since he began his career more than 80 years ago. Now 95, Simmons has limited mobility, but nothing could keep him from attending the July 11 race where he witnessed his monumental victory firsthand.
“Whether he is 95 or 105, he will never give it up,” Drake said. “You never leave the track and the track never leaves you. There is nothing like race day.”
Tarmacs in Charlottetown and Summerside have reopened to spectators with a 50 person capacity during live racing events. Admittance is free and on a first come, first served basis. For those who cannot attend in person, all the harness racing action in P.E.I. can be viewed at redshores.ca.