06/28/2011 12:38PM

Churchill Debutante win brightens dark time for Simms

Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
Flashy Lassie, with Kent Desormeaux riding, defeats Five Star Momma in the Debutante, giving trainer Garry Simms his first stakes win at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Garry Simms doesn’t ask why anymore. He just takes every day as it comes, and when something good happens – like it did Saturday at Churchill Downs, where the veteran trainer sent out Flashy Lassie to a 17-1 upset in the $109,300 Debutante Stakes – he just counts it as a blessing.

Simms, 59, was found to have multiple myeloma in December 2009 and has withstood an incredibly demanding treatment schedule over the last 18 months. The cancer is located in his spine, and while he was given an initial diagnosis that his condition was terminal, “I’m still here walking, still doing some physical things,” said Simms, who works regularly at his Churchill barn.

“It is pretty amazing what the doctors can do these days. I’ve had two stem-cell replacements, about 55 or 60 chemotherapy treatments, and about 20 radiation treatments. Yeah, I’ve been through a whole lot, but I just wake up every day and try to enjoy my life.”

Known in his younger years as a tough guy with a penchant for finding trouble, Simms has mellowed noticeably with age. He quit drinking years ago, found religion, and has made a point of reaching out to younger people with the same kinds of problems he endured.

On the surface, his feats during a 20-year training career have been modest – 166 wins, and stable earnings of $3.3 million – but what does not show up in the statistics is that Simms has developed and sold a number of standout horses, most notably Magna Graduate, an earner of nearly $2.6 million, and Benny the Bull ($2.35 million).

“I’ve always thought it best for my clients and my family to sell at the top of the market,” said Simms. “It’s worked out pretty well.”

The Debutante victory marked the first stakes win at Churchill for Simms, a lifelong Louisvillian and father of three, and was just his second in a six-figure stakes. The first came last Labor Day with Tanzana in the Cradle Stakes at River Downs. Simms said he finds little irony, nor any heaven-sent messages, in his two richest wins having come while he suffers with cancer.

“They say this is one of most painful forms of cancer you can have, but that doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I can take the pain – bring it on. What’s hard for me is seeing the fear in my kids’ eyes and not being able to do anything about it. That’s been the hard part for me.”

Simms said he is hopeful that Flashy Lassie, unbeaten in two starts, will be in the field for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies when the series returns to Churchill in early November.

“That’d be something,” he said.