Hall of Fame


john f. simpson, jr.

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John F. Simpson, Jr., was born on June 13, 1943, in Lumberton, North Carolina to John F. and Helen Simpson. Although John Jr., is the son of the late Hall of Fame horseman John F. Simpson Sr., former president of Hanover Shoe Farms and one of the most respected men the sport has known, it wasn't a certainty that John Jr., would follow his father into harness racing. He was a standout baseball player and earned an "All-Around Athlete Award," when he attended the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball camp. Standardbreds, however, won out, with John winning his first race at 17, driving Don Hanover at Vernon Downs in 2:08. It was 1960, while he was on vacation from school. However, a full-time driving and training career had to wait until his graduation from Orlando Junior College in 1963, which he attended following his high school graduation from Winter Park High School in Florida in 1961. John was still in college when he drove his first two-minute winner in 1963, exactly one month after his 20th birthday. It was a $3,000 invitational pace and John, together with Thor Hanover, bested the great Meadow Skipper in 1:59.2. It was the best ever time to date for The Meadows new "drip dry" track.

Simpson burst onto the national scene when he guided Timothy T to victory in the 1970 Hambletonian. At 27 years of age, he became the youngest driver to take trotting's most prestigious race. The successful team also tallied wins in the 1969 Greyhound, and the following year (in addition to the Hambletonian Stake), the Colonial, Review Futurity, Founders' Gold Cup, and Kentucky Futurity. There were many trips to the winner's circle and record books for John F. Simpson, Jr. The 1970s found him and his proteges winning more times than not: 1973 Prix d'Amerique winner Delminica Hanover was first conditioned by Simpson, in 1971,before going on to the Delvin Miller Stable. In 1971 Hilarious Way was a winner in The Little Pat and the next year, the Cane Pace and the Review Futurity Pace; that same year the Hoosier Futurity Trot winner was Fairmount Hanover. 1973 was Knightly Way's year with wins in the Dexter Cup and the Founders Cup; it was 1974 and Waymaker led the way to the Kentucky Futurity, while Exclusive Way picked up the Lou Dillon. In 1977, Jurgy Hanover took the Old Oaken Bucket and Superlou claimed the Lady Suffolk. The next year Pagan Princess was the Lou Dillon winner, and Jurgy, continuing his successful career, took a 1:59.4 victory in the $18,000 feature trot at the Meadowlands. The final year of the decade brought Gator Bowl and Simpson laurels in the Review Futurity Trot and world champion Jurgy Hanover continued to frequent the winner's circle.

John Simpson, Jr., guided the destiny of Classical Way 4,T1:55.2, one of the great race mares of all time and, he says, the greatest trotter he has ever sat behind. She was one of his four Kentucky Futurity winners (1979), and when she retired with earnings of $715,499, she was heralded as the fastest trotting mare ever. In 1978 Simpson piloted her to a 2:00.2 win in the International Stallion Stakes Two-Year-Old Filly Trot at Lexington's Red Mile. The following year, the trotting distaff claimed the Kentucky Futurity, when she went in 1:57.4. In 1980 she took the American Trotting Championship, the 1 1/4 mile Roosevelt International Trot against Petite Evander and Ideal du Gazeau, and the 1 1/2 mile Challenge Cup. She went on to pick up the 1 1/8 mile American Trotting Classic at Hollywood Park, and in so doing lowered the world record to 2:11.3. Before Classical Way shipped to Europe, she took Simpson on a sizzling 1:55.2 time trial at Lexington's Red Mile. She completed her fantastic career by closing out the year with a third place win in the Prix d'Amerique and a first in the Prix de France. She completed her final race lowering the Vincennes track record from 2:38.1 to 2:35.9 (1:59.2 mile rate). The win also gave Simpson the honor of being the only non-European driver to win the historic French event: a title he continues to hold.

The 1980s weren't only for Classical Way. In 1981, catch driving for Stanley Dancer, John took his fourth Kentucky Futurity with an upset win, driving Filet of Sole; Panty Raid won him the World Trotting Derby; Gretchen Hanover was the 1981 winner of The Hudson. In 1982 Honey Bee Hanover was the Zweig Memorial filly division winner.

Excel Hanover won the Castleton Farm Trot in 1983. However, perhaps the most spectacular performer for Simpson that year was Walton Hanover, who took the Garden State, Bluegrass, Potomac, International and the two-year-old colt pace division of Blue Bonnets' Prix de l'Avenir. The following year Simpson took Walter Hanover to the winner's circle for the American National and the Gaines Memorial.

Then, in May 1984, John Simpson, Jr. was seriously injured while warming up trotter Desdemona Hanover at The Meadows. Thankfully, his zest for life, his love for his chosen vocation and his positive nature were all the right ingredients to ensure a strong recovery and more resolve than ever to remain at the top of his profession.

Although Everglade Hanover won the Arden Downs in 1985 he really blossomed in 1986. Probably Simpson's best horse that year, he guided him to most of his earnings of $310,834. The pair were divisional winners in the Currier & Ives Stake at Freestate, and they equaled the world record for three-year-old colt trotters on a half mile track when they won the final heat of the Old Oaken Bucket at Delaware in 1:57.4. During 1985 and 1986 Musical Hanover was another solid performer for Simpson. Together they won the Lexington Filly Stake in 1985 and the next year finished in a dead heat for first with Sacastick in a division of the Bronx Filly Pace at Yonkers. They were beaten by just a head in the $107,900 Ladyship Stake at the Meadowlands. Freshman trotter Slocum Hanover was one of Simpson's noteworthy performers in 1987. That year he also handled freshman Super Chuzz in divisions of the Hanover & Hempt with both horses reaching the winner's circle.

Other noteworthy trotters benefiting from Simpson's sulky talents include Superlou, a world champion miss and Micron Hanover, who trotted in 1:57.2 as a two-year-old in 1982; the tough Sugarcane Hanover; the $200,000-plus earner Antwerp Hanover, Kendy Hanover and Notch Hanover both W. N. Reynolds Memorial Trot super achievers and the Super Bowl-Ebony Crown filly Ebonita Hanover. She won 10 of her 26 outings as a three-year-old in 1991, with earnings of $314,496. Her successes that year included the $205,000 American-National at Sportsman's Park and both her $16,349 elimination and the $49,182 final of the Buckette at Delaware, Ohio as well as the Tomkins-Geers, Hanover-Hempt, and Currier & Ives. She also finished second behind the great Peace Corps in both their eliminations and the 1990 Breeders Crown Mare Trot. The freshman filly Ate The Towel was Simpson's finest trotter in 1995. The Valley Victory lass had three wins in 18 season's starts, earning $103,683. She won a pair of Maryland Standardbred events including a personal best clocking of 2:00 in the $47,840 event at Rosecroft. Ate The Towel also finished fourth in the Merrie Annabelle Final.

Other successful performers for Simpson include trotters Snippy Hanover, who won a division of the Arden Downs; Antwerp Hanover, the 1989 Champlain Open Trot and 1990 Hanover Colt Stake winner; and Remus Hanover, also winner of the 1989 Hanover Colt Stake. Also of note, trotter Fiddler Hanover, winner of the 1991 Founders Cup and the Transylvania. Top pacers handled by Simpson also include Armbro Splurge, author of 38 career two-minute miles and Sportsmaster, the 1991 Woodrow Wilson winner (driven by Ron Waples in a personal best of 1:52.1). This son of Abercrombie also picked up the Potomac and Historic-Goshen Cup and claimed the International Stallion Stake, a division of the Champlain Stakes and a Bluegrass-Meadowlands elimination. In 1992 he was named the Harness Tracks of America Two-Year-Old Colt Trotter of the Year and finished second to Western Hanover in the year's USTA/USHWA balloting for divisional honors.

Since 1961 John F. Simpson, Jr., to date has won 1,333 races, and over $11 million in purses; his training summary totals $2.384 million and 113 wins.

He is married to Lois Dancer, daughter of Harold and Marion Dancer. They have three sons, Douglas, Tim and Kevin and two granddaughters.

Published in the Harness Racing Museum's 2004 Souvenir Journal