Tim Hills (Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO)
Hills Sets Sights On Saturday’s Goldwood Stakes As He Approaches His 50th Year As A Trainer
Tom Luicci/Monmouth Park
OCEANPORT, N.J.— If veteran trainer Tim Hills could go back and tell a younger version of himself what to expect in the years ahead the advice would be simple.
“Be prepared for the ups and downs because it’s not going to be easy most of the time,” he said. “Back when I started, I thought I was a genius. I was naïve. I thought I had all the answers.”
Back when Hills started training is coming up on his 50-year anniversary, and the soon-to-be 71-year-old is still going strong with a 22-horse stable at Monmouth Park. One of his horses – Glitter Up – heads into Saturday’s $100,000 Goldwood Stakes at 5½ furlongs on the turf (weather permitting) off a sharp score following a four-month layoff.
For Hills, the 50 years have flown by, he said, since he took out his trainer’s license on July 20, 1973, as a 21-year-old who dropped out of the University of New Hampshire after a year to pursue the only job he has ever wanted to do.
“I didn’t know that I would do anything else. All I wanted was to be a trainer,” said Hills.
Born and raised in Hollis, New Hampshire, Hills grew up on a 100-acre apple farm that also housed thoroughbreds. He began riding at 8 and still gets up on a pony most mornings on the Monmouth Park backstretch.
“I think better on the back of a horse,” he said. “There’s a saying that `there’s no time wasted on the back of a horse.’”
Hills, who has been stabled at Monmouth Park since 1988, has had his share of success over the past half-century with 2,084 career winners.
His best year was 2004 when he set personal bests in starts (585), wins (103) and earnings ($3,075,524).
“I was pretty naïve when I started. I looked like John Denver back then,” he said. “We had immediate success (7-for-22 his first year) and you thought it would always be like that.
“But all of these years later I can say that I still enjoy it. Winning is intoxicating.”
Hills’ two best horses, San’s the Shadow, and Toll Taker have produced his only graded stakes wins after nearly 14,000 career starters, with both winning Grade 3 stakes.
“It’s not frustrating to have not won a Grade 1 or Grade 2, but I think about it,” he said. “It would be nice to get a Grade 1 or Grade 2 if I ever have a horse capable of running and competing at that level. I just don’t have the access to that type of horse.”
So, he continues to grind away, as he has done most of his career, winning with two of 10 starters so far at the Monmouth meet. Glitter Up, a 4-year-old filly who has done her best work sprinting on the grass, is his latest hope for another stakes winner this weekend. There is rain in the forecast, however.
“If the track is deep and sloppy, she won’t run,” said Hills, who was named the 2019 recipient of the Virgil “Buddy” Raines Distinguished Achievement Award, the most prestigious honor that Monmouth Park hands out. “She can handle an off track okay, though she is better on the turf. If it comes off and the track is sealed and not too deep or tiring, I’ll probably run her.”