By: Raissa Tetanish Hub Now
D’ESCOUSSE: Next spring, Marjorie Simmins wants the name Somebeachsomewhere to be known internationally.
Simmins, an author, writing teacher, and freelance writer living in D’Escousse, has a new book being released in May 2021 titled Somebeachsomewhere: The Harness Racing Legend from a One-Horse Stable.
“It’s been a dream,” said Simmins, from her home about the launch of the upcoming book. “Beach is a magical horse and it was such a magical experience for me to write it.”
As a lifelong equestrian, Simmins is no stranger to the horse industry. She grew up in Vancouver near 40 hectares of rural-zoned property.
“It was a horse paradise. I spent years riding my own horse, then riding others well into my 20s and 30s. I was in and out of barns all my life.”
Her second published book was titled Year of the Horse. She penned it while recovering from a “bad, dreadful” horse accident after which Simmins couldn’t even turn over in bed.
“A lot of people write things, like memoirs, in retrospect, but I was writing this story as it unfolded,” she said.
When Beach, as the horse was affectionately known, passed away in 2018, Simmins saw and felt the reaction from the industry. Beach had just turned 13 and died due to cancer. He and his driver won 20 out of 21 starts in 2007 and 2008 before Beach retired.
“All of my horse friends were bereft. They were so upset.”
When Simmins started looking into Beach’s history, she realized no such book had been written.
“It wasn’t until the following year, after Beach’s death,” the author said. “My heart started pounding and I said to my husband, Don, this book had not been done. He told me to ‘get in the car, now.’”
When Simmins reached out to Brent MacGrath, she said he made the time to see her. Confusion surfaced, however, when MacGrath said a book had already been done.
But it wasn’t what Simmins had in mind.
“It’s a glorious coffee table book of photographs. It’s a small, beautiful book but very little text.”
That’s when Simmins kicked it up a notch and got to work.
“If you think Beach moved fast, Marjorie moved even faster,” she laughs.
While she spent countless hours in the industry, Simmins admits harness racing was different.
“It was fascinating for me to learn about the Standardbred world with pacers and trotters,” she said, adding Beach was a pacer.
“The more I read, the more I realized I know nothing about harness racing.”
Along with MacGrath, Simmins spoke to the other five co-owners for the book: Garry Pye, Stu Rath, Pamela Dean, and Jamie Bagnell, all of Truro, and Shediac’s Reg Petitpas.
All six owners were on board for Beach’s story to be written.
For the next three months, Simmins worked on the proposal for the book, and within days of submitting it, two big publishers were on board. The author says she’s excited to be working with Nimbus to publish the book.
“Everything about this story is magical. Beach came from good bloodlines, but not fabulous bloodlines. He should’ve gone for much more than he did.”
With $40,000, Simmins said it was the most MacGrath had ever put out for a horse, and it wasn’t much for top quality yearlings.
“He had a big responsibility in buying the absolute best horse for himself and the group. But a whole bunch of things happened to make it possible.”
The book includes interviews with a number of people—Paul MacDonell, Beach’s lifelong career driver; Dr. Bridgette Jablonsky, manager of Hanover Shoe Farms in Pennsylvania where Beach spent his retirement career as a stallion; and even Stephanie Smith-Rothaug, Beach’s breeder.
“She helped the mare give birth to him,” Simmins said, about the latter interviewee. “He came right into her hands. There are certain things little colts just don’t do when they’re born, and Beach did them.”
Jablonsky, says Simmins, flew Beach to Australia where he spent six months as a stud at Empire Stallions.
“He changed the Standardbred legacy around the world. All this from a horse from Truro.”
The book, she says, is for more readers than just those with an interest in horses.
“It’s a feel good story. It’s for anybody who loves a great success story and the unexpected.”
The Truro Raceway, where Beach was trained, is still going strong with harness racing, as are others in the Maritimes, including Inverness. Simmins hopes those who love harness racing will love it that much more thanks to the book.
“And others, like me, will be like ‘wow, we have this in our backyard?’”
For the year Simmins spent immersed in the book, she walked away with many memories. She and her late husband, Silver Don Cameron, travelled to Pennsylvania with MacGrath and his friends to see what the Harrisburg Yearling Sale is all about. She met Jablonsky, and watched the manager sell millions of dollars of horses in just a few days.
The year was also filled with non-stop interviews, research, fact checking, and even more checking.
“Beach’s winning time is 1:46.4. If you put the wrong one one-hundredth of a second, people in the industry will start tearing you to pieces,” laughed Simmins. “You have to fact check beyond belief.”
She said if it wasn’t for the help of MacGrath’s wife, Rhonda, the process would have taken twice as long. Rhonda loaned Simmins a bag of material detailing Beach’s racing history.
“Without that collection of memories, I think it would’ve taken me twice as long,” she said.
Both Brent and Rhonda were “so kind and so supportive” of Simmins through the process. The author says she was able to reach out to MacGrath anytime of day. If he didn’t have an answer to a question, it didn’t take him long to find it.
“I want this story to go way beyond Maritime borders,” explained Simmins. “It’s an international story. I want it to go global. Americans know all about him—[Beach’s] son is probably going to outperform his father [as a stallion].”
Although the story is one of success, Simmins also says there’s a lot of sadness on the pages.
“Horses are very strong, very fragile creatures, and a lot of times [reading the book], your heart is in your mouth.”
With the coronavirus pandemic already cancelling one book launch earlier this year, Simmins hopes things are different when Somebeachsomewhere hits the shelves.