Harness racing trainer/driver Pat Hudon has made one of the hardest decisions he's ever had to make, choosing to focus solely on training his standardbred stable. Hudon, 40, admits he's been thinking about retiring from driving for a while.
It wasn’t until after an on-track incident on November 10 at Woodbine, when he was unseated along with his father Joe and his brother Phil, that he came to the conclusion he would hand over the reins for good.
“It kind of scared me,” said the horseman, who was taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder and an injury to his calf.
“It took a couple months for me to decide it was time to stop driving, but it’s the time to do it,” he added. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Before his most recent misfortune at Woodbine, Hudon recalled a handful of other incidents, including an accident in a qualifying race in April 2002, which rendered him unconscious.
“You get a head injury as bad as I did and when you come out of it, you get another chance,” he explained. “You only get so many chances.”
And Hudon won’t chance it for his family’s sake.
“You are doing something you love and to decide to stop, it was tough, but it would be selfish of me to keep driving,” said Hudon, who has two children, Dylan, 8, and Julia, 5, with his wife, Rochelle. “I have a young family. I don’t want to take the chance that I might get into an accident again. I want to remember my kids and I want my kids to grow up with me. Family is first.”
With 21 years of driving under his belt, Hudon says he has fond memories of being in the race bike.
“I don’t regret driving one bit,” said Hudon, who rates his win with Armbro Nautilus in 1:50.3 in the Free-For-All at Mohawk in 1998 as one of his greatest racing moments. “I love it and I will definitely miss it.”
Throughout his driving career, Hudon persevered through hard work and determination to record 1,561 wins and over $12.5 million in purse earnings.
Hudon finished second to veteran reinsman Paul MacKenzie in 2000 and 2001 at Flamboro Downs in both wins and earnings, notching a career-best 315 wins and over $2.4 millions in earnings in 2001.
The Rockwood resident’s last trip to the winner’s circle, on September 26, 2011 at Mohawk, was a memorable moment. Not only did he score with one of his pupils, Hidden Identity, he also celebrated his 40th birthday.
Driver Jody Jamieson, one of the Canada’s top drivers, regularly competed against Hudon in the early 2000’s at both the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) circuit and Flamboro.
“He used to torture us all,” he recalled with a laugh. “Pat’s strategy was to be first-up, parked first-up every race. We all thought it was crazy, so we would try to get on his back and follow him. He just got those horses to live.
“He would just float off the gate and we would all be leaving or taking back or trying to get position and Pat would just get his usual spot, parked first-over and he’d turn them loose down the backside,” Jamieson added. “He won a ton of races.”
Jamieson also appreciates Hudon’s decision to focus on training his stable of seven, while enlisting the services of his brother, Phil, or catch-drivers to steer his trainees.
“Pat has been in a few wrecks,” he said. “I think for him and his family it is probably the best decision. Pat is a hell of a horseman. He is going to be heard from in this business for a long time.”
One thing Hudon has learned throughout his driving career, both on and off the racetrack, is that it’s important to know when to make the right decision.
Even when they happen to be tough ones.
Ashley MAYOTTE & Chris LOMON