Canadian National Driving Championships nears

07:34 AM 21 Aug 2014 NZST
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It feels like the big show has just ended at Red Shores' Charlottetown, but in less then a week another show will take centre stage.

The National Driving Championship, presented by Standardbred Canada, P.E.I. Harness Racing Industry Assotiation , P.E.I. 2014 inc. and Red Shores, goes on Tuesday, August 26, with eight drivers from around Canada representing their respective regions.

A new twist has been added to this years NDC format. Rather than the usual format for assigning drivers, Standardbred Canada will conduct a 'draft' for the eight races, similar to a hockey pool style draft. This provides the drivers direct involvement in determining the horses they will drive when they draft their horses.

Red Shores' will play host to Premiers from around Canada for the night of power packed action which includes the Founders Cup Invitational for a purse of $25, 000 and the $ 5,000 Builders Cup in recognition of Doug Hill of Charlottetown and Eric Johnston of Summerside.

The winner of this year's event will have the honour of representing Canada on the world stage in Australia for the 2015 World Driving Championship. The field is made up of two drivers from the Western region, the Quebec/Eastern Ontario region, the Atlantic region and two from Ontario.

Here is an in-depth look at this year's competitors.

A two-time World Driving Champion, Jody Jamieson, will be back to represent the Ontario region and look to gain his fifth berth in the World Driving Championships. Jamieson was the winner of the Ontario Regional in May at The Raceway at Western Fair District. The Moffat, Ont. resident is a winner of just under 7000 races, 2014 marks his 20th year with his drivers licence and over that time he has compiled more then 39,200 drives.

Along with his two World Driving Championships, Jamieson has two North American Cup victories, two in the $ 1 million Metro Pace and a Little Brown Jug to his resume. In 2009, he returned a Canadian record 796 winners back to the winner circle in a single season. The Nova Scotia native is a three-time O'Brien award winner for Driver of the Year, He has banked over $ 105 million in career purses and this season he has over 180 wins and over $3 million earned.

His stablemate from Ontario is Billy Davis Jr. He was the runner up to Jamieson at the Ontario Regionals. He made his move to Ontario in May 2009 for his home in Langley, British Columbia and things have skyrocketed for the man known as 'The Rocketman' ever since. Davis recently picked up his 1700 win on August 12 at Mohawk.

The son of O'Brien award winner Bill Davis has been dawning the silks for eight years and has over 11,800 trips behind a starting gate and he has just shy of $15 million in career earnings. Davis returned home to B.C. last November and picked up victories in the $ 75, 000 Mary Murphy Breeders stake and the $ 75, 000 Robert Murphy Breeders stake. Earlier that year he picked up his first Ontario Sire Stake Super Final victory.

Davis Jr. will be making his first trip to Red Shores' Charlottetown as he looks to keep the streak of the Ontario region representing Canada alive. A victory in this year's NDC would not be the first time he has represented Canada on the world stage, In 2012 he represented his country in the Prix des Rencontres Internationales de Trotteur Francais in France, which he won. He has over 130 victories this season and has banked just shy of $ 1.5 million in earnings to date this season.

With an Ontario region win that will mark the fourth straight year Canada has been represented by an Ontario driver. Gilles Barrieau was the last non-Ontario driver to represent Canada.

Heading out west, a young man with strong Island ties, Brandon Campbell was the winner of the Western Regional Driving event at Fraser Downs in April. The son of former P.E.I. horseman Sanford Campbell, this will be Campbell's second attempt at winning the National Driving Championship, he represented the 'West' in 2011 on P.E.I.

A winner of over 940 races in his career, Campbell is currently in his 12th year of driving. Campbell called Alberta home from 2003 until 2011 when he made the move to Ontario just after participating in the NDC. He returned back home late in 2012 and since then has become one of the top drivers in Alberta. Campbell has over $ 5.7 million in career earnings. This season he has 62 victories from 420 drives. A win on red soil is sure to be a special one for Campbell.

His counterpart from the Western region is Jim Marino. One of the leading drivers at Fraser Downs in his hometown of Surrey, BC, Marino recently surpassed the $10 million mark for career earnings as a driver. He picked up his 1, 800 lifetime driving victory on August 17 at Alberta Downs in the $10 ,000 Alberta Marksman elimination for three-year-old colts.

Marino is in his 16th season with his driving tags. This season he has returned 76 of his 467 mounts back to the winner circle. Last season Marino was named the Driver of the Year and Dash winner at the B.C. Standardbred Awards Banquet. He has many major race victories to his credit from his time spent driving in Alberta and B.C., Among that list is BC Sire Stakes finals, Ralph Klein, Mary Murphy and the Robert Millbank.

Representing the Quebec/Eastern Ontario region from Gatineau, Que. is Guy Gagnon, he picked up a one point victory in his regional appearance at Hippodrome 3R in June. A winner of over 4300 races is the veteran of the field with 26 years of driving under his belt and over 24, 704 starts. From 2001 until 2012 his earnings were over $1 million each year and over his 26 years he has earned over $ 20 million.

He currently sits second in Canada with a .392 UDRS, in 2011 he was nominated as one of three candidates for the O'Brien award for Horsemanship. The Quebec native calls Rideau Carleton his home track and currently sits more then 30 wins ahead at the top of the leader board. Gagnon has 113 victories this season with 102 of those coming at Rideau. His best season came in 2008 when he returned 342 winners back to the winners enclosure and banked over $1.7 million. This will be his second appearance at the NDC, he participated in the 2009 event at Fraser Downs.

A runner up to Gagnon in the Quebec/Eastern Ontario region championship, Sylvain Lacaille is back for his second shot at representing Canada at the WDC, he represented Quebec in 2011 at the NDC.

From Repentigny, Que, Lacaille has taken a different route to becoming a driver, he drove his first race at the age of seven aboard a pony in which he near fell out of the sulky. Lacaille earned his standardbred tags in 1993 and since than has over 720 lifetime victories and made more than $ 5.5 million in career earnings.

The 2013 season was a career best, he hit the 100 win plateau and earned $ 422, 188 in earnings. The Quebec native spends his time between Rideau Carleton and Hippodrome 3R. This season he has 50 wins and has earned over $ 213, ooo from more than 375 drives. Lacaille said prior to the 2011 NDC that he would like to win the WDC representing Canada before he dies.

A runner-up in the Atlantic Regional Driving Championship Ryan Ellis has quietly started to leave his mark on Maritime Racing, growing to become one of the primary drivers in the region. The rookie of the field has only been driving since 2007 and rapidly has made his mark at his home track of Truro, winning the driving title in 2011, 2012, 2013 and is well on his way to winning it again this year.

He was the leading percentage driver in Canada during the 2012 season batting an astonishing .418. The Brookfield NS native has over 340 victories from 1585 starts. He has a career UDRS of .339 along with more than $ 410,486 in earnings. This season he has eclipsed his wins total from last year with over 45 victories and has earned more money with $52,765.

Ellis has made appearances in the year's Gold Cup and Saucer Trial and has also won the Mike MacDonald Consolation with Rare Jewel. Known as 'The Flying Pilot' Ellis is an Air Canada pilot by day and a horsemen by night. He will look to make Nova Scotia proud in his first appearance at the NDC.

The winner of the Atlantic Regional Driving Championship and the final participant in the 2014 NDC, is the hometown hero, the king of the Maritimes, Marc Campbell.

His second appearance in the NDC couldn't come at a better time, at the top of his game, Campbell is currently the leading driver at both Red Shores' Charlottetown and Summerside, he has 112 wins this season from 486 drives. He started driving in 2004 and is in his 10th season as a driver. He has more than 1240 wins and over $ 2.6 million in lifetime earnings. His resume includes multiple Maritime Breeders and Breeders Crown championships, an O'Brien award for Horsemanship and his biggest moment in harness racing, living out his boyhood dream of winning the Gold Cup and Saucer, a feat he accomplished in 2013. "King Campbell" sure will be at home on Tuesday, his home track is sure to be packed with family and friends, and if that isn't enough.

He holds the record for most wins in a single season in Charlottetown, during the 2012 season he notched 130 of them. From a little boy growing up in Orwell, to a young man representing his region on the National stage, Campbell said he wants nothing more than to represent his country at the 2015 World Driving Championships.

by Bo Ford, for Red Shores

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