The ballad of Simon Wise
The beloved and deeply loyal member of the Preferred Equine family has overcome a troubled past thanks to the help of a few key admirers that bask in his irresistible joie de vivre.
by Murray Brown
Most people’s first thought when they think of Preferred Equine Marketing is of David Reid, who together with his late partner Geoff Stein founded North America’s largest and best known standardbred horse agency.
There are also a few people — sometimes including myself — whose first thought of PEM turns to Simon Wise, especially when visiting their consignment at a sale.
There are times when Wise’s presence might be even more ubiquitous than that of his boss Reid.
Wise is a “lifer” in this business.
He was born and raised in Freehold, NJ.
His first job was working for the dairy owned by William Bresnahan, Sr. who was a very prominent horse owner at the time.
Freehold is home to the longest operating harness racetrack in North America.
Given that Wise is a native Freeholder and was working for a noted horse owner, it is understandable that he would develop some affinity for horses in general and harness racing in particular.
In the horse business, he first went to work for Herve Filion at his stable in Englishtown, NJ. Wise recalls his years with Herve, who he describes as “the man with the golden hands” as being very rewarding. “Herve was great to me. At one time or another, I met all eight of the driving Filion brothers. The one who sticks out most in my mind was Rheo who had somewhat of a short fuse. I remember him being so mad at Jack Baggitt one time, that he went after him with a pitchfork. I don’t remember what it was all about, but if Rheo had caught Jack, Baggitt might have had a few holes in him.”
From Herve’s employ, Wise went to work for Jack Moiseyev, who at the time was the quasi ruler of Freehold Raceway.
Wise recalls his years with Jack as being fun and as Jack being a very good person for whom to work.
In 1995, Robert Bresnahan, also known as Rocky, was the foreman for Preferred Equine Marketing. He asked Wise if he wanted to make a few extra bucks and come to work the sales with him for Geoff Stein and David’s budding sales organization. That was 25 years ago and Wise has never left.
In between sales, all was not well with Wise. He had very little education and was barely literate. He was into booze, drugs, smoked like a fiend, was constantly in debt due to his irresponsibility. He also spent several assorted small sentences as guests of several police organizations.
Enter David Reid into his life.
Wise credits David, together with the Antonacci family as saving him and making him into the fine citizen he has now evolved into.
If you know Wise, it’s pretty difficult not to like him.
There is a joie de vivre about him that is irresistible.
Despite his several (mostly, self-imposed) flaws, there is, and always has been, a great deal about Wise that is likable and very positive.
He is very loyal, organized, a hard worker for whom no task is too difficult or menial. He is ultra-pleasant to both strangers and friends alike. His broad smile is infectious and sincere.
When David first met Wise, he was impressed by his work ethic. There are very few in this world of ours who work harder, certainly none in this business of ours than David Reid. He has also been known to throw compliments around as though they were anvils.
Of Wise, Reid thought, “This kid can really work.”
But Reid quickly learned that all was not milk and honey when dealing with his new employee. Sure he worked hard, but he also got himself in trouble with some degree of regularity.
There have been several calls through the years when his phone rang and the first thing he heard was “Boss, I need some money” or “Boss, I’m in trouble and I need your help” or “Boss, I’m at the bus station at (fill in the blank). Can you come get me?”
Reid would be very unhappy with his friend and employee, but after a severe dressing down, more often than not, he would help him out as best he could.
Over and over Reid would preach to him, “Simon, you’ve got to get yourself together. Your life is a mess.” This went on for several years, with occasional respites from his bad behavior. The one thing he did well, he continued to do, that is accomplish whatever and whenever he could do while working for Preferred. It was his time when there weren’t horse sales that he had a propensity for getting himself into trouble.
Several years ago, Reid, Geoff Stein and the Antonacci family together with one or two others purchased a home almost directly bordering on the Saratoga Racecourse. The plan was to spend the thoroughbred racing season and periodic times there in the off season as a haven for R. and R.
David Reid volunteered for the task of getting and keeping the house into shipshape condition.
Reid’s right hand man, then and now, was Steve Bray. But Bray lives in Canada and he had a full time job of his own. Reid’s next in line was Wise.
Wise was recruited to come to Saratoga and help with the house. He would often spend days and even weeks helping Reid do what needed to be done.
Back then, the group that owned the house would hold an annual party to celebrate the opening of the thoroughbred season.
Wise was always there and always operating on all cylinders.
At one of these parties, Gerry Antonacci asked Reid about Wise’s availability.
The Antonacci Family was opening a golf course called GreatHorse. Would he consider releasing Wise to come work full-time at the Golf Club?
“That’s a great idea,” Reid said. “We need to get him out of New Jersey and help him get his life together. It’s in Jersey where he always seems to get himself into trouble. Let’s speak with him.”
Wise was AOK with the plan. Except that he wanted to get one thing understood. GreatHorse would be his boss, however when his friend Reid was holding a sale, he wanted that time off to go work for him. Gerry was all in.
So Wise arrived in a small town in Connecticut as one of the very few black people in a very close knit rural community.
As he is so adept at doing, he quickly won just about everybody over.
It’s now six years later. He has become entirely free from an onerous debt that just about anybody would have thought would be impossible to come out from.
He is making significant progress in becoming literate. He pays his taxes.
He wants to get a passport, so he can work the Canadian sales with Reid and Bray.
He is generally liked and appreciated both at the golf club and in the community in which he resides.
Although he sometimes indulges with adult beverages, he is nowhere near the miscreant he used to be.
Drugs are forever banished from his life.
“I consider myself to be a very lucky man,” Wise said. “If not for my boss David Reid and the Antonacci brothers, I’d probably be dead. I’m not yet what I want to make of myself, but I hope to get there. One thing I know for sure, we ain’t here forever. We are all just renters. It’s up to us to make the most of our time here.”
What do some of the people who have played a part in Wise’s story think about how he came overcome adversity?
“If I were trying to describe Simon, there would be numerous parts. It would be like combining a weather man, a story teller, a comedian, an investigator, a hip hop artist, a traffic cop, Harry Houdini and a movie star. He is a jack of many trades and a master of more than one.
“One never knows who is going to walk into one’s life. I’m lucky that he walked into mine. It was in 1995 when he hitched a ride to work a sale at The Meadowlands with “Rocky” Bresnahan. Rocky brought a group to work the sale consisting of two Russians and Simon. If I were judging, I’d say that this was quite a trifecta. Add Rocky to it and you’d have a superfecta. I hope you get my point. Simon has been with us ever since, despite a few minor visits with the state authorities. Through it all he has been a very valuable member of our team.
“Coming from central New Jersey and having a background far removed from mine, it took me some time to learn to appreciate him. It often took great effort to have him join us. You sometimes had to jump through hoops to get him there. Whether it be to pick him up at Mom’s Peppermill off of exit 8 on the New Jersey Turnpike, the Port Authority in Newark or NYC or the nearest bus stop near The Meadowlands, it was never easy. In most cases the ends more than satisfied the means.
“Early on in our relationship, I would say the balance sheet was very much in his favor. But over time I got the better part of the arrangement. Simon has a very unique way about him that makes him very special on both a personal and professional level.
“Stories about my friend Simon, I have hundreds. But here are just a few:
“While preparing for a Harrisburg sale, we arranged for Simon to take a train from New Jersey to Harrisburg. The train was to arrive that evening and I was to pick him up. I arrive at the station and I’m waiting, waiting, waiting. The train is late. Finally it arrives. and people get off. No Simon. Maybe he had to use the restroom I think. By this time, I’m steaming. Moments later my phone rings. It’s Simon. ‘Boss, boss, I am here. Where are you at?’ ‘I’m at the station,’ I answer, ‘Where the Eff are you?’ ‘I’m here in front of the station,’ he says. I ask, ‘What station?.’ He asks an attendant, ‘Hey, where we at?.’ He says, ‘Elizabethtown.’ He got off one stop too soon.
“While renovating the house in Saratoga, Simon stayed there for a few months. During the week he lay by the pool, made friends with the neighbors and got the scoop on what was happening. I’d get there on Friday and we’d work on renovating the place all weekend. Before leaving one Sunday, I asked Simon if he knew how to paint. ‘Yeah boss, I know how to paint. I used to paint all the time in New Jersey.’ ‘Great,’ I said. ‘We need to paint the new bilco door.’ I explained it would be a three day process. On Monday, sand the door and apply painter tape and trim. On Tuesday, apply the primer. On Wednesday, apply the final coat of paint. ‘Okay, I got it,’ Simon says. On Monday, he calls me with his daily briefing and says, ‘All done, boss.’ ‘All done with what?’ I ask. ‘The door. I painted the door.’ ‘You couldn’t have. It was a three day job.’ Rather than argue, I said ‘Okay, I’ll see it on Friday.’ I get there. The job is terrible. There’s white paint all over the green house. I was far from happy and let him know. ‘Boss, you asked me if I knew how to paint. You didn’t ask me if I was a good painter.’
“Simon can eat. He is just a little guy, but he can put it away. I learned early with him, that if his compensation includes board, you better get eight hours of work out of him before he gets fed, to get your money’s worth. Whatever you do, make sure he doesn’t microwave hard boiled eggs.
“Simon is PEM’s number one shopper. He knows his way around stores — especially Sam’s and Costco. He is always friendly and courteous with the staff. He will almost always sneak an item or two for his own use or to give to someone as a gift. Of course PEM is footing the tab. I would ask him, ‘What is that or who is that for?’ His standard answer is ‘Don’t worry about it boss.’
“In all seriousness, he is a very caring person with a good heart. He has overcome numerous obstacles placed in his path. He has many sayings including, ‘I am not here for a long time. I’m here for a good time.’ I can say that he continues to provide us with plenty of good times and memories.
Frank “The Elder” Antonacci
“Simon has been a great addition to the Antonacci family. He does a fantastic job, both as an employee and as a true member of the family. He helps to make everyone around us better.”
Robert “Rocky” Bresnahan
“There are so many terrific Simon stories. When I first brought him to Preferred, all his experience with horses was of the racetrack variety. He had no sales experience. I’m not sure whether he had ever even been to a horse sale.
“At Lexington, I figured I’d get our best yearling presenter Homey to teach him how to show a horse. Homey took him to the back of the shed row and squared up a yearling for us. He showed him as the prospective customer moved to the front of the horse how to switch his hands so that their view of the horse was not impeded.
“‘You got it Simon?’ I asked. ‘Yes I do, Rocky’ he said.
“A month later at Harrisburg, it’s Day 4 of the sale. We were showing broodmares and prospective broodmares. They are much easier to show than yearlings. I thought to myself, ‘It’s time for Simon to make his debut showing.’ The Hanover crew, then led by Dr Peter Boyce, showed up to look at some mares. Simon leads out a mare. David Reid didn’t know that he was showing. He turns red in the face. I could tell he’s not happy. All was going alright, until Dr. Boyce moved to the front of the mare. Simon crossed his legs and stood there awkwardly. Dr Boyce said to David, ‘It looks like your man desperately needs to go to the bathroom.’ I could tell that Dave was seething. He banished both of us to the bucket brigade.
“I asked Simon what happened. ‘Homey told me to cross my legs when the looker moved to the front of the horse.’ ‘Oh no Simon, he said to cross your arms, not your legs.’”
“When my dear friend Dr. Peter Boyce was dying from pancreatic cancer, Simon volunteered to go to Gettysburg where Dr. Boyce was living, to help him with everything that he could possibly help him with. I recall a terrible storm where Simon was in charge of clearing the snow from his residence. He would do the mundane chores such as cooking and laundering which at times Dr. Boyce was not able to do. In good days, Dr. Boyce and Simon would walk the battlefield. Peter Boyce was a great student of the American Civil War, specifically the Battle of Gettysburg. He would tell Simon whatever had happenedand where and when it occurred.
“Dr. Boyce would love eating at the Cracker Barrel restaurants. Whenever we were in Lexington, the three of us would eat there and Peter would always order meatloaf. To this day, Simon makes it a point to eat at Cracker Barrel at least once while in Lexington and to have meatloaf in honor of his dear friend.
“Another thing a lot of people don’t know about Simon is that he is an excellent horseman. If he has hold of a horse, it’s never going to get away from him. I remember one year at Lexington, we were unloading yearlings at night. One that Simon was holding got spooked and ran Simon into a tree. I’m sure he hit that tree hard enough to sustain a concussion, but he held on.”
“I try to be somewhat creative with my names and we don’t use farm names. I’ve known Simon for a awhile due to my dealings with Preferred. I’ve waited a little while to get a colt that I thought fit my equine image of my friend Simon. I had a Walner colt, Hip No 286 at Lexington that I felt checked the right boxes. So I gave him that name. He was bought by Chuck Sylvester. Thus, I am certain that he is in the right hands. I’m sure that Chuck realizes that he has a dual responsibility with the colt. The first is to make sure the name remains and is not changed and the second is to develop him to his full potential. I spoke with Simon about the name. He asked why I named one that only brought $70,000 instead of one that brought $300,000 after him. The answer, dear Simon, is that I only wish that I had one that had brought $300,000.”
“Two things come immediately come to mind when I think of Simon. The first relates to his loyalty to David Reid and PEM. I remember once coming into their sales area at Harrisburg wearing a hat from one of their competitors. What does Simon do? He says, ‘I’m sorry Mr. Brown, but you can’t wear that hat in here.’ He then proceeds to knock it off my head and stomps it on the ground, at about the same time placing a PEM hat where the former one previously was placed.
“The second relates to my wedding to Carol. We had a relatively small wedding reception of some 45 or so people. I spoke to Reid about possibly hiring Simon to serve as a major domo at the event. He would direct and help people find their way in an area in which they wouldn’t be familiar. David Reid would be in charge of getting him to the event and getting him home from it. The day before the wedding, we held a dinner reception for out of town guests at Philippe by Philip Chow in the city. At about 5 p.m., I get a phone call from David Reid. He says, ‘I’ve got some excess baggage here with me. What shall I do with him?’ He was referring to Simon of course. He was staying with the Reids the day before the wedding to make sure he would get there on Saturday evening. He had neither a car nor a license. ‘Bring him along,’ I said. There were about 25 of us. Within a few minutes, he had made friends with all of them. The next evening at the wedding reception, Simon took over. Not that he didn’t do his job. He did that extraordinarily well. But when the bar opened Simon partook. When the dancing began, there were very few people with whom he did not dance. At the end of the evening, David Reid said, ‘Damn I’ve now got to take Simon back to New Jersey.’ ‘No you don’t’ I countered. The Hilton downtown was the hotel where we booked our out of town guests. During the day, several of the female guests, including Carol, were getting their hair done in our apartment. There was no way that I was going to or could be there while this was going on. I decided to book a room at the Hilton for the day. When I checked in, they upgraded me to the Presidential Suite. I took a nap there that afternoon. When David told me about Simon having to go back to Jersey, I gave him my keys. ‘Simon, you are going to stay in the Presidential Suite, while your boss will be staying in an ordinary room.’”
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