02/02/2012 2:45PM

Q&A: Don Simington

Coady Photography

Veteran jockey recorded the 3,000th victory of his career Jan. 19 at Delta Downs, becoming the 159th rider to reach that mark.

Birthdate: March 15, 1963, in Tomahawk, Wisc.

Family: wife, Deianna; son, Jarid

Got into racing because . . . We moved to Tucson, Ariz., when I was young. A neighbor trained horses. His son and I were good friends, and he taught me how to gallop. I had never been on a horse before I was 18. I think my friend put me on the horse so he wouldn’t have to gallop, and he could just ride out on the pony. I moved to New Mexico after I graduated from high school, galloped and groomed horses, and rode my first race at Sunland Park in 1984, when I was 21.

Wisconsin is not exactly the hotbed of horse racing. Did you have any interest in horses or in racing when you were growing up? None at all. I was from a little bitty town up there in Wisconsin. I had never been on the back of a horse until I was 18.

Did you play any sports growing up? I went out for wrestling, but one week before the season was going to start, I broke my wrist and never went out for it again. I never got into any sports. When I graduated from high school, I figured I’d be a welder. I had been accepted into a trade school.

But then you found the horses. Were you scared at first? I was horrified.

So why did you do it? I think I was forced into it by my friends. They didn’t take no for an answer. But after a while, I loved it. I had never been pleasure riding. The first thing I did was gallop a racehorse. Everything was so new, it was scary at first.

How satisfying was it for you to get your 3,000th win? It was real satisfying, especially looking back at all the riders who have won that many races. I know five guys here at Delta who have won 3,000 races. I’ve ridden with some good riders. I didn’t start riding races until I was 21. Some of these guys are from Cajun country, and they grow up riding. When they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to ride a horse. I’ve had a lot of good teachers. A lot of good guys have come through here.

Is there anyone in particular you watched closely early on? When I started out, when I had the bug, I watched Laffit Pincay Jr. and Angel Cordero Jr.

What does winning 3,000 races signify to you? A lot of years, a lot of hard work. Looking back, my first goal was just to get to 1,000 wins. I thought that was great. Then when I won 2,000, I wanted to get to 3,000.

And now 4,000? Yes, but when someone asked me what my next goal was after winning 3,000, I said, “3,001.”

One year ago, you broke nine ribs and a collarbone, ruptured your spleen, and punctured a lung in an accident at Delta Downs. How hard was it to come back from that? It was real hard at first. The recovery was hard. It was the worst accident I’d been in. But when I started exercising, and I got close to riding again, I knew I wanted to keep going.

You were in the hospital for eight days: Yes. The first three days I was in ICU. Then after I got out, I was basically quarantined at home for 60 days. The only time I left the house was to go to the doctor’s office.

Was there ever a time during that recovery when you thought, “This is it?” The first week or two. But once I started healing, I wanted to come back, do it again. If I quit I’m going to have to get a real job.

Your agent is Ron Ardoin, a former jockey whom you rode against in Louisiana and who won more than 5,000 races. What are the benefits to having an ex-rider as your agent? It’s a huge advantage. He rode around here for 30 years. He knows everyone, and everyone knows him. He’s super smart and was a good rider. His passion for the game is unbelievable. We get along real well. We’re good friends. We hunt together.

What’s your schedule like year round? I’m pretty much here at Delta all winter. I’ll go over to Evangeline. And then I’ll go up to Louisiana Downs when they open on May 4.

You’ve always been based in Louisiana. Have you ever had any desire to try a bigger circuit, like Kentucky, New York, or California? I’ve always had good business here. My son was born shortly after I got here, and he was able to grow up with the same kids all through high school before he went to college. I have no aspirations of going anywhere else.

You said before you like to hunt. What do you hunt? Deer.

Any other hobbies? Watching football. I used to fish a lot, but I gave that up. Hunting is pretty much it.

What is your favorite football team? Green Bay. I was born up there, and they were so good in the 60s. They’ll always be special.  But the Saints are my second favorite, living in Louisiana as long as I have.

Biggest win? In 2008, I won the Louisiana Premier Night Championship with Magic Sunset for trainer Jim Hudson. That’s a $200,000 race.

Best horse ridden? Most of the horses I’ve been on have been Louisiana-breds. One of my favorites has been a stakes-winning mare named Vickies in Town. She’s trained by my father-in-law, Ray Spencer.

Best horse seen? That’s a tough one. Sunday Silence was good. And Alysheba. Those are some of the best I’ve seen.

Future ambitions? I don’t know. I’ve thought about it, since I’m fixing on turning 49 years old. I’ve been so blessed in my career up to now. When I was hurt, at first I thought, “What am I going to do now?” But I still love doing this. I do know that training is not an option. I have no desire to do that. That’s out. I’d love to ride in the Kentucky Derby. But it’s hard. Hardly any good ones like that come through here.