You enjoyed your first Royal Ascot winner this year when Balios won the King Edward VII Stakes. What were your emotions after the race and what did it mean to you and the team?
I am not one of these people that hollers, jumps in the air and gives people massive hugs. We have always thought a lot of the horse so you are actually relieved that the faith you’ve put in him has come to fruition, that everything has worked out and he has fulfilled his early promise.
At this stage of the season you are looking for boosts for the yard and this was a very big one for everyone at Trillium Place.
Of course it was very important for the owners, Al Asayl Bloodstock, who are a relatively young breeding operation based in Abu Dhabi with ten to 15 mares. They have some lovely broodmares and this is the first big winner they have produced.
They all watched the race in Abu Dhabi and got a great thrill, which, for me, was as much pleasing as anything. At the end of the day the owner is the most important person, not the punter, not the jockey, not the trainer. The owner provides the raw materials and pays the bills.
Balios ran a close fifth in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris after Royal Ascot. Is the plan now to run him in the Great Voltigeur and then the St Leger?
We’ll discuss with the owners what route we’re going to take. Making plans for him doesn’t get any easier as he progresses so we’ll just have to see how he comes out of Longchamp and look at all the possibilities. My wife Jennie is his regular rider at home and Balios has always shown up well. He had sore shins as a baby and other niggly little things but has always displayed plenty of talent.
Originally, what fired your interest in racing and what are your earliest memories?
Watching racing on television at home in Herefordshire on a Saturday afternoon with my father, who would take me racing at places like Hereford, Worcester, Cheltenham, Ludlow and Taunton. We used to go on holiday to Torquay every year and that used to coincide with the summer festival at Devon and Exeter and Newton Abbot.
One horse that sticks in my mind is Man Alive, ridden by Ron Barry in the Mackeson Gold Cup in the 70s. Being a grey and winning at Cheltenham stood out and left an impression in a young mind.
Your school of learning included spells working for Ian Balding, Dick Hern, William Muir and Luca Cumani. How did each of these men prepare you for a training career?
All wonderful people in their own right. Ian Balding gave me my first job and looked after me very well. If I was a young person going into racing today that’s where I’d like to start again. With Andrew in charge now I believe it is just the same, the most friendly, wonderful environment where there is a great community and you feel very safe.
Dick Hern was a great disciplinarian and I probably needed shaping up when I went to him and he did that to a certain extent. William Muir is a marvellous people person, a wonderful guy with owners and hugely enthusiastic and a very good friend now.
Just watching Luca Cumani’s attention to detail was enough; he never missed an evening stables, he’d know every horse however good or bad. They were four great guys to work for.
Have you modelled your training methods on any one of these trainers in particular? And which part of training do you enjoy most and find the most rewarding?
You feel your own way and train your horses individually; they all want different things at different times. I find there is a certain feel for each individual. You look at them every day and see them every night and find you develop an empathy with each one. Some people think it’s set in stone that they have a routine and they are going to do this, that and the other.
As their trainer your own sense for the way they are developing tells you when, where and how you work them. I love training two-year-olds and seeing their potential, in particular watching them first time out and seeing their reactions. They are the future. The most rewarding part of the job is winning with a horse you thought would never win a race.
You won with your first runner, Cut And Dried, at Lingfield on Valentine’s Day in 2004, the day you asked Jennie to marry you. Has Mrs Simcock become an integral part of the running of Trillium Place?
Jennie is the most important part. In fact, I wouldn’t be training now if it wasn’t for Jennie, it’s as simple as that. She has a huge involvement now, as she did when we started 11 years ago. She is brilliant with the finances, brilliant with the owners; I’m sure they like her more than they like me!
She is massively enthusiastic, riding out every day, busy in the office, mother of two tiny children – she’s got plenty on her plate. We bounce things off each other all the time and she is far more competitive than I am. She really doesn’t like it when any of the horses get beat.
How tough was it setting up on your own?
I wouldn’t want to repeat the way we did it. We had no owner base, no background and financially it was frightening. It was a massive struggle starting with seven horses, though we did eventually get lucky. We had to borrow from the bank, from everybody when Trillium Place came on the market.
But Jennie put together a business plan for a property developer, who had no interest in racing, but a lot of interest in the property and liked Jennie’s proposal. He supported us and the place is ours now.
Was there a particular turning point when you felt you had arrived?
I am not sure I have arrived, quite honestly. You feel if you pop your head above the parapet there is always something out there waiting to knock you back down.
The defining moment would have to be Dream Ahead, our first really good horse. I have no doubt I’ll never train another one as good, not at two and three over six and seven furlongs.
You have trained Group 1 winners in America and Canada as well as big races in Dubai and are not afraid to travel your horses far and wide. Why is globe-trotting so high up on the Simcock list of priorities?
It’s job opportunism. To beat Group 1 horses in England is extremely difficult and, for me, that makes racing in Britain the best. It is harder to win a Group 1 here than it is anywhere else in the world. Sheikhzayedroad is what I’d call a ‘nearly’ Group 1 horse. In Europe he was more of a Group2/3 performer, but suddenly became a Group 1 horse abroad, where he won the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine.
That’s what you’re looking for together with the prize-money. If you’re racing for Group 3 in England you’re running for £65,000, while in North America it would be $500,000. It is lack of foresight if you’re not looking out for those type of races abroad. We don’t want to pay £20k travelling a horse abroad that’s not going to be competitive; we like to think that what we do take abroad generally has a good chance.
Is there a particular type of horse you like to train?
I’ve always been intrigued by the two-year-olds but I also like middledistance and staying horses as well. I like to think I can train every type of horse, from a two-year-old, through speed horses to stayers. I look for value at the sales because our budgets tend not to be very high.
Along with my agent Richard Brown, of Blandford Bloodstock, we have always had to buy horses and then sell. We don’t get huge orders and are always looking for value, an angle. My view is that I’d rather buy a slowly-bred horse that’s a bit slow because it can usually be placed, and if by chance it turns out to be fast it’s going to be worth a lot of money.
In contrast, if a speedily-bred horse turns out to be slow, it is worth zero and they can be very expensive to buy. Richard has been with me since day one. We are very good friends and he and Tom Goff have been a huge help to me along the way. We get on well, disagree well and even argue well!
What advice would you give to a young man or woman embarking on a career in training?
Go in with your eyes open because it is quite daunting out there and you are expected to get results. Financially it will be very tough, but don’t set your financial sights too low. We thought starting with our training fees low would attract owners. Basically, it does anything but, and can attract the wrong type of owner. Don’t sell yourself too low.
As the man who supplied Hayley Turner’s first Group 1 winner in Dream Ahead and with two female apprentices in your yard, you clearly have no problem with female jockeys. So why are they struggling to make an impact at places like Royal Ascot?
We’ve had several; Alice Haynes, Laura Pike, Siobhan Miller, and now we have Millie Naseb and Sophie Killoran. At the end of the day they struggle probably because they are not as strong as men, and I think that’s the case even with the very best, Julie Krone in America and Hayley Turner in England. It’s down to strength.
There are probably more girls working in racing than ever before and the majority that come into racing at a young age want to be jockeys. I’d like to see races confined to lady riders and girl apprentices to get them started. It would be a great opportunity for them.
We always try and give them a chance here and I don’t think there are many girls that have walked away from Trillium Place that haven’t ridden winners.
As a trainer building your career in a sporting world widely covered by the media, do you think the professionals in racing do enough to promote the sport to the non-specialist audience?
Times have changed and the new generation of trainers are more open and far happier talking to the press, and the older generation have followed suit. There’s no question we have to, like football managers after the game and tennis players the moment they come off court. The only thing I would say is that we are indebted to the owners, who provide the raw material for a very, very expensive game.
The owner deserves the first insight into how their race was run. I am quite happy to talk to the press at any time, but am not always happy to answer every question because the media might be getting knowledge before the owner.
Which racing moment do you treasure most, and why?
Dream Ahead’s 2011 July Cup because that victory put him back on track and reinforced his reputation. Dream Ahead was an exceptionally talented two-year-old, but we couldn’t run him early doors as a three-year-old for various reasons and he probably had something to prove after two races where things didn’t go to plan.
You started out with seven horses – now you oversee a string of over 100. How do you and Jennie find time to relax away from the horses?
Everything revolves around the children, Charlie, 3, and Lucy, 1, and Sundays are precious to us when we go out with the kids. Jennie’s and my relaxation is the children and for me personally I love going to sporting events like the British Open, test matches, American Football, rugby, football and cricket.
Will you be targeting runners at British Champions Day, where you enjoyed Group 1 success in 2014 with Madame Chiang?
Everyone would target runners at British Champions Day if they could because the prize-money is phenomenal. It is a wonderful day’s racing and if we have horses we think can be competitive we’ll be there, hopefully. These new sponsorships from foreign investors are making a huge, huge difference and they need supporting.
There’s been lots of talk about the expansion of all-weather racing and its place in the sport. What is your view?
It’s obvious to me the all-weather is becoming more and more important. It’s always been good to us; we have a separate team for the all-weather in the winter and we’ve always been avid supporters. You only have to see what John Gosden has introduced on the all-weather, with the likes of Jack Hobbs and Western Hymn, and Sir Michael Stoute’s King George and dual Breeders’ Cup winner Conduit won his maiden on the all-weather. There is definitely a place for the all-weather with its winter series and Good Friday meeting, which have been huge successes.
You say you want to “keep raising the bar”, so where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I am quite happy where we are now. As it stands at the moment racing is very competitive, very tough. All I want to do is to keep producing good horses and train any kind of winner.