If anyone has had the pleasure of speaking with Phil, there is something about his laugh that seems so genuine. Phil comes across laid back and easy going and the laugh suggests he truly enjoys having a good time, regardless of who he's talking to.
A touching moment right of the bat is Phil describing what his brother Pat had to overcome. Several years ago during a qualifier, Phil's brother Pat was driven into the track due to a horse accident. "He's lucky to be around" Phil says. "He's good now, but it was scary at the time." Thank God Pat is okay, it is tough to think of what the drivers have to contend with at times day after day. Yes drivers wear helmets, but all their limbs are exposed and it's a blessing and a testament to the skill drivers possess that accidents rarely occur.
by far, would be Phil's most exciting horse he's raced to date. "We won the Breeders Crown (at Pocono Downs) and the Governors' Cup (at Woodbine Racetrack) and we got to race against all the top horses for a couple of years and I've never experienced that before. It's pretty thrilling to drive a horse like that, a world class horse." Phil explains.
"That's what it's all about right there" says Phil. "Drivers can get good horses... but great horses make you look so much better."
Away from the rush of racing horses, if Phil isn't following hockey, you can catch him at a baseball game. "I used to like the Canucks, but I like the home teams so now it's the Leafs unfortunately" says Phil laughing. Oh Phil, I feel your pain and so does every Maple Leafs fan out there.
"I like the Blue Jays, LA Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers in baseball." Phil notes.
Life has been hectic for Phil who races seven days a week! "I go everywhere now. I go to Flamboro once a week and Western Fair on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the rest of the week I'm at Mohawk/Woodbine." That sure is a lot of mileage and travel time, but it only goes to show how much Phil is dedicated to the sport he's passionate about as well as doing his very best to support his family.
Phil has three kids, Madison 14, Zach 7 and Delaney who is 7 months old. "It's tough; you miss out on family time because it's work, work, work." Phil acknowledges. "There are nights they're going out for dinner and you miss out on all of that. On weekends, you just can't take off and go to the cottage unless you book the weekend off but then you lose your drives."
It must be difficult trying to hold together two firm commitments. On one side you have your family in your heart and the other side, there's horse racing which you love and you need to be fully committed to driving and ensuring you're always showing up to the track to be able to provide for the family you love. It is reasons like these that I feel the horsemen and women within the horse racing industry do get enough praise for what they do with the sacrifices involved.
Phil does admit it's tough on the family at times with all his travelling. "I'm hustling a bit more this year" explains Phil. "I got to get back rolling because I was slumping for a bit.... I find I am sharper when I am racing everywhere. Plus I am going for 4,000 wins so I'd like to get that. I am still a couple hundred away though."
It would be awesome for Phil to win his 4,000th win at Woodbine or in a major stakes race. Talk about what an awesome win photo shot of that would be, nothing short of spectacular. North America Cup for number 4,000!
"Wins are wins" says Phil. "You can win a five claimer and it picks you up.... I find racing all the time keeps you sharper."
Phil came to Ontario from British Columbia at a very young age, Phil was only 16. "It was tough; I had no friends, nothing." Phil says. "It was just me, my dad and his girlfriend at the time and two dogs, we only had four horses."
"I quit school at 16, but I wish I didn't though." Phil explains, "I thought about (finishing school) a bit... but I wanted to drive horses, that's what I really like doing."
Phil explains how it can be tough in some races when the horse you're driving is really pulling, but there isn't one particular drive that sticks out to Phil that would he would consider his most intense drive. Phil unfortunately has been in a few accidents which resulted him popping out his shoulder a few times and cracking his wrist once. Phil considers himself lucky to date, which is remarkable and that must say a lot about his driving skills and his keen awareness for the horses and drivers around him each and every race.
"There's been people badly hurt, you know with broken arms and legs. I've just been lucky, touch on wood." Phil says. Luck plays a role in many things in life, but for the time Phil has been driving, I strongly believe it's his driving aptitude combined with luck that has brought him this far.
Phil does not give himself enough credit. During our conversation, Phil pays respect to his fellow horsemen, the horses, the owners, but not once did Phil give any credit to himself. Phil should give himself more credit; no one lasts long in any career without being skilled, decent, humble and respectful. Of which all of these attributes Phil possesses.
Phil was a big wrestling fan back in the day; Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock were his two guys he would cheer on. "Back in the day, the Rock was awesome and with Stone Cold, they were playing a good role." Phil says
UFC is another sport Phil really enjoys watching. One of his favorite fighters is BJ Penn. "I loved BJ Penn he was awesome, the Prodigy... I like watching good fights, there's a bunch for great athletes like St. Pierre, and he was awesome." Phil says. However, don't expect Phil to be entering the Octagon, he enjoys watching the fights, not being a part of the fights.
Phil enjoys the brotherhood of the driver's colony at Woodbine and Mohawk Racetracks. "I don't really do grudges" says Phil. "You go about your business; if you end up in a grudge match you're only hurting the owner and the horse. You need to keep your head on right; you always need to use your head."
Phil does consider himself a joker, one who can dish out the laughs and still be able to laugh at himself. To be a fly on the wall in the driver's room, one can only imagine how much fun the drivers have with one another.