It was 1976. Will Simpson was 17. The Roofer was a 15.3-hand Thoroughbred and a former children’s hunter.
The jump was set at 7’5″, and there were more than 19,000 people watching.
“He loved performing in front of a crowd, and he had a great day that day. It was an exciting moment for me. We knew he was very scopey and careful, but even so it was a little scary! But you have less fear when you’re young, you know,” Simpson said of galloping down to the fence on The Roofer “I think they started at 5’, and they just kept raising the jump, and he just kept going right over it. He did it easy. He was meant to do it.”
Will Simpson on The Roofer at Arlington Park race track (Ill.) in 1976.
It was an exhibition held at Arlington Park race track (Illinois) on Sept. 18, 1976. The preliminary rounds had been held before the first race, and three horses had jumped 6’9″ successfully to come back for the final round between the eighth and ninth races of the day.
“The Roofer’s 7’5″ jump shattered the old Illionois outdoor record of 6’9″ held by Desert Fox and also bettered the Illinois indoor record of 7’1″ set by Bay Charlie in the Chicago Armory last January,” read the Chronicle’s report of the feat.
“It was a lot of fun for me at that stage and one of those things where it propels you. It was one of those successes along the way that keeps you coming back for more,” Simpson said. “People stop me today and say, ‘I was at Arlington Park at the races and saw you jump that fence.’ A lot of people remember it.”
The Roofer was then owned by Virginia and Michael Shiffman, but Simpson had originally gotten the ride after John Doherty bought the little bay as a children’s hunter prospect for his daughter.
“John Doherty had come out to the barn to ride his horse, and he watched The Roofer—who was then called something else—jump. He bought the horse on the spur of the moment, and he had to go back and tell his wife to cancel the plans to replace the roof on the house—he’d just bought a horse. So, that’s how the horse got the name The Roofer,” Simpson recalled.
Simpson, who was riding for Frank Jayne Jr. out of Jayne’s Morton Grove, Illinois, farm at the time, got the ride when The Roofer showed promise over larger fences. They went on to compete at the grand prix level. “I rode him for a few years, then he got sold to the East Coast, and he was a top speed horses out there in Katie Prudent’s barn,” Simpson said.
And Simpson went on to quite a career himself, earning team gold with the U.S. squad at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong aboard Carlsson Vom Dach.