08/29/2001 11:00PM

Simms makes move and finds success

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - John Simms jumped at the chance two years ago, at age 50, to take early retirement from the Toronto police force. Simms had planned for years to open a public stable, and retirement allowed him to start a new career on the racetrack.

After a slow start to being a full-time Thoroughbred trainer, Simms has been drawing attention recently. And it's not just because he's big - 6-3 and 240 pounds. He sports a hefty win percentage of 23 at the meet here, from nine wins from 39 starters going into Saturday. He also has six seconds and eight thirds. Only two trainers of the 15 above him in the standings boast a higher win percentage.

A Toronto native, Simms was brought up mostly on the east coast, on a farm that had riding horses. At 24, back in the big city, he became a cop. For his 26 years on the police force, Simms also worked at his family's farm. "During the whole period we were boarding, breeding, and breaking horses," he said.

Simms got into racing, as an owner, in 1973, when he met jockey Larry Attard, who introduced Simms to his brother, trainer Sid Attard. Simms raced claiming stock - one or two horses at a time. The first horse Simms claimed, Melody Hall, won his first two starts. The best horse he owned was $5,000 purchase Goose Green, who ran third in the Highlander Stakes at Woodbine.

Simms obtained a trainer's license five years ago in anticipation of retirement from the force. But when he began to pursue his new vocation two years ago at Woodbine, frustration soon set in.

"I was given two stalls maximum," he said. "I didn't have stock. I couldn't go after more horses. It was ridiculous. I was in the game. I loved the game. And I was investing my money and I had clients who wanted to get some horses. But I couldn't improve my position because there wasn't stalls available for me."

Last year Simms had one win from 15 starters at Woodbine. He also had a second and a third. At Fort Erie, he had two third-place finishes from three starts. Something had to be done.

"I inquired about opportunities at Fort Erie," he said. "The move was good timing. I was given eight stalls. I moved down - lock, stock, and barrel. I'm grateful for that. It's hard to to be noticed when you only have one or two runners."

Simms not only has the stalls now, he has filled them with more than just claimers.

On Monday Simms is planning to run his 3-year-old filly Wiry Willie in the $50,000 Miss Moneypenny Stakes. Wiry Willie won her maiden Aug. 5 by almost 13 lengths and finished second in an allowance race last week.

* Jockey Schemlin Montoute escaped serious injury from a spill on Tuesday. Aboard favored Baton in the sixth race, Montoute fell when his mount broke a foreleg in the stretch while running second. Montoute was then run over by another horse.

"He was sitting up in the hospital," said clerk of the scales Richard Gawel. "His arm and shoulder were sore and his face had some lacerations. But it seemed nothing was broken."