The more and more I have the opportunity to speak with people within the harness racing industry, the more and more my view on humanity changes for the good. For all the negatives in the world that grab the headlines, a shadow is cast on what should be the brightest of headlines, which is the horsemen and women that form harness racing. Despite the uncertain future of horse racing in Ontario, many within the industry remain positive and hope for the best. The best being the Ontario Government will come to terms with the racetracks to ensure further growth, such as we see south of the border in states like New York and Ohio. Having to deal with these issues over the years is one of Canada's top harness racing drivers, Sylvain Filion. "In 1999 I came here to Ontario and after three years I went back to Quebec. I was there for five years and then came back here." Sylvain explains. Making a big move from his native hometown in Quebec, Sylvain Filion made the move to Ontario as racing in Quebec declined and became virtually nonexistent. "They quit racing in Montreal" says Sylvain. "The racing was very good there, but when they quit racing I came to Ontario." "It sounds kind of like what is happening here" Sylvain notes. "They had money from the slots and then the Government took the money away and that is what killed harness racing. So hopefully that won't happen here." It must be deja vu for Sylvain. There is one positive rumor circulating that the government may have a plan to help the horse racing industry. There is word that negotiations are under way that will ensure the success of harness racing for the next five years, if not longer. Speaking with Sylvain, he's currently feeding his adopted daughter, Stella-Rose and little Stella-Rose will be turning one in a few days. Sylvain and his wife Dominic adopted Stella-Rose eight months ago and they could not be happier. The cheerfulness is Sylvain's voice radiates of pride and joy all due to the new edition to the Filion family. Will Sylvain and Dominic adopt another baby so Stella-Rose may have a brother or sister? Sylvain says possibly but it's too soon to say for sure. "It's about time I became something" Sylvain says with a laugh. "Right now it's my greatest achievement. My wife and I couldn't have a baby and we have wanted a baby for over twenty years so we adopted and it has worked out. We are very very happy!!" Sylvain comes from a family with deep roots in the horse racing world. "I was born with horses all around me. My father still has that farm in Quebec and my grandfather had 5 or 6 horse as well. That's how my father and uncles got started." Sylvain says. Sylvain's father, Yves won the North America Cup and the Prix d'Ete with Runnymede Lobell in 1988. One is of his uncles, Herve, is the world renowned Hall of Fame horsemen. "There's still a lot I want to do, there's big races I'd like to win, like the North America Cup, (which takes place at Mohawk racetrack). I came second once and my father won it. The Meadowlands Pace and the Little Brown Jug are ones I would like to win." "At the start of each year, we cross our fingers and hope a horse comes through that can have us do great things." Sylvain says about any potential break out horses. Sylvain does not train any horses, as he puts it, he is 100% focused on driving. If he had to pick one of his favorite horses out of all he's driven, he feels Breeders Crown winner Goliath Bayama is the favorite. As for Sylvain preference for track type and style, he says he enjoys the one mile tracks like the Meadowlands compared to the 7/8th mile tracks. Yes, that one eight makes a difference. "When you're on the 7/8th, you have the whole stretch to get into position and at the mile tracks, when you leave the gate you have an eighth of a mile until you hit the first turn" is how Sylvain describes the flow. "If you decide to leave hard, you might have a long drive going into the first turn." Meaning you're stuck on the outside leading to a longer trip for the horse and burning unnecessary horse power. During the warm months, Sylvain loves to play golf and is an avid fan of the sport. The one golfer he admires most is 'The Lefty', Phil Mickelson. "I like his aggressive style, every time he goes for broke when he plays." Sylvain says. When the weather turns cold, Sylvain and his wife Dominic usually head south for a vacation getaway. This year was a tad different as the happy parents were basking in the warmth of their new bundle of joy, Stella-Rose. Happy Birthday Stella-Rose! When Sylvain decides to hang it up and call it a great career, what he hopes to do with his family is travel. "I like Costa Rica, the wildlife there is pretty amazing. I'd like to go to Europe. I was there once to train a horse and that was at 9/11." Sylvain went to France to work with and train a horse he was set to drive in a big trotting race in Montreal, the Trot Montreal. "They invited horses from all over the world to race in Montreal." Sylvain explains. "I was a little anxious to come back because I was stuck there for an extra five days." Sylvain was telling me about how much fun the drivers have amongst themselves. Once they're in the bike and on the track, it's strictly business and game on, "Here at Woodbine we take our jobs very seriously. Once we are out there on the track we are all professionals and may the best horse win." However between drives and/or races, the horsemen really know how to keep the atmosphere light. "There are jokes amongst the drivers" Sylvain says. "We spend so much time together. Especially in the summer when we are driving five or six nights a week, we get to the Paddock for 6:30pm and we are there until 11:30pm. So we have to find a way to have a bit of fun and enjoy ourselves." Some examples of jokes played on one another; a driver, who has a couple of races off, may grab a pair of gloves from another driver and tie knots in the fingers of those gloves. So when the owner of those gloves grabs them to head out, that driver has to go out without any gloves on or has to rush and get a pair from a trainer. For fun, sometimes baby powder is put into the helmet of an unsuspecting driver. As you may guess, when the helmet goes on, that drivers' entire head and face is covered. Another prank is putting shoe polish around the goggles of another driver where that said driver is left with rings of polish around his eyes for the rest of the night. They must be tearing up with laughter at times! Sylvain admits, one prank that happened to him is when someone tied his shoe laces "into 2000 knots so I had to cut out all the laces before I left to go home after the races." Priceless! Sometimes they tease one another, "You have to be able to laugh at yourself" says Sylvain. "You have to remain humble. When a guy is parked out the whole mile and he comes in last, he's asked if 'he's caught a cold out there?'...we are a tough group, but a fun group." By Roderick Balgobin, for Supernova Sports Club www.supernovasportsclub.com Twitter: ScSupernova
The Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame is pleased to announce its 2014 ballot. A total of 36 horses and people, including 18 Standardbred racing candidates and 18 Thoroughbred racing candidates have been selected to appear on this year’s ballot. A 20-person Election Committee for each breed will declare the winners in their respective categories. Results will be announced Tuesday, April 8. On the Standardbred ballots representing this year’s six voting categories are as follows: Male horse category, Blissfull Hall, J M Vangogh and Rocknroll Hanover In 1999, Blissfull Hall captured harness racing’s elusive Pacing Triple Crown. Owned by Ecuries Daniel Plouffe, Inc. of Bromont, QC, this champion was trained by Ben Wallace with Ron Pierce as regular driver. A 31 race career over two seasons amassed a record of 19-4-6, a mark of 1:49.2 and earnings of $1.4 million before embarking on a successful career as a stallion. J M Vangogh, purchased as a yearling for $4,500 by Paul Chambers of Harrington, Delaware, made a remarkable recovery from an accident in the Ontario Sires Stakes Gold Final as a two year old to earn $2.28 million in 206 starts over 8 seasons and the nickname “The Comeback Kid”. Rocknroll Hanover banked more than $3 million during his race career, for owners Jeffrey Snyder of New York; Lothlorien Equestrian Centre, Cheltenham, ON; and Perretti Racing Stable, LLC. Career highlights include victories in Canada’s most prestigious races for two and three year olds, the Metro Pace and the North America Cup. He then embarked on a second career, becoming one of North America’s most prolific stallions before passing away in 2013. Female horse category: B Cor Tamara, Dreamfair Eternal and J Cs Nathalie Before embarking on her second career as a broodmare, B Cor Tamara enjoyed a productive racing career, earning more than $185,000. Bred and owned by Peter Core of Dresden, ON, the daughter of Dream Of Glory was the dam of 19 foals, including star trotter B Cor Pete, and granddam of two champion juveniles, Banker Hall and Broadway Hall. Her offspring have earned in excess of $2.7 million. Dreamfair Eternal retired from racing in 2012 after a career spanning seven years, 56 victories, including every stake event on the older pacing mare schedule, earning over $2.5 million and being named Canada’s Horse of the Year in 2010. The daughter of Camluck was bred, raised and owned by John Lamers of Ingersoll, ON with Patrick Fletcher receiving training credit. As a broodmare, J Cs Nathalie has produced two millionaires for owner John Lamers of Ingersoll, ON -- pacing colt Dreamfair Vogel, and pacing mare Dreamfair Eternal. Dreamfair Vogel was a winner of 19 races and over $1.1 million with a mark of 1:49.3. Dreamfair Eternal, a winner of 56 races and over $2.5 million in purse earnings was Canada’s Horse of the Year in 2010. The trainer-driver category: Yves Filion, William Gale, and Wally Hennessey. Yves Filion, 67 of Saint-Andre-D’argent, Quebec was one of his province’s premier trainer-drivers for close to 30 years driving in almost 18,000 races with 4,362 wins and $26.5 million in earnings. Training credits include 248 winners and horses earning in excess of $3.4 million. Pacing colts Runnymede Lobell and Goliath Bayama each became millionaires with Filion responsible for both training and driving. William Gale, 65 of Woodstock, Ontario, was one of Canada’s leading drivers for a period that spanned the 70s, 80s and 90s. Between 1982 and 1997, Gale recorded 16 consecutive $1 million+ seasons. During his career, he won 6,375 races, started 32,134 times and earned $42.1 million. Wally Hennessey, 56, of Prince Edward Island, has more than 8,200 victories to his name and has banked earnings in excess of $55 million. In the late 1990s, he enjoyed success with the trotter Moni Maker, a winner of $5.5 million and numerous stakes including the Nat Ray in three different years, the Hambletonian Oaks and Breeders Crown. In the summer of 2007, Hennessey was inducted into the Living Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York. Candidates in the builders’ category: Dr. Ted Clarke, John B. Ferguson and Robert Murphy. Dr. Ted Clarke is recognized by his peers as a visionary in the horse racing industry. Highly regarded for his thoughtful insights, Clarke’s strong and steady leadership has helped guide Grand River Raceway to be a leader in innovation and growth. Before Grand River, Clarke led numerous initiatives to put Elmira Raceway on the path to stability, including the inauguration of Industry Day, the Battle of Waterloo and the establishment of the Ontario Teletheatre Network. John B. Ferguson may be best known for his time in the National Hockey League, but his passion for Canadian horse racing was drawn from early years spent with his father and grandfather at old Hastings Park in Vancouver, BC. In addition to his role as a very active owner and breeder, Ferguson also took a role in track management. He was hired by Blue Bonnets in Montreal and after leaving hockey became the President of Windsor Raceway. He was also one of driving forces behind the formation of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. The late Robert Murphy, a native of Vancouver, BC, one of Canada’s most respected horse breeders and owners, was known by his popular Red Star moniker. First introduced to racing at Cloverdale Raceway in 1980, he rapidly became one of Canada’s most prolific owners. He averaged 935 starts as an owner each year between 2005 and 2009. In 2007, at the age of 74, Murphy owned more Standardbreds than anyone else in Canada. Outstanding Standardbreds: Albatross, Artsplace, and Happy Lady Albatross was voted US Harness Horse of the Year in 1971 and 1972. He won 59 of 71 starts, including the Cane Pace and Messenger Stakes in 1971, and earned in excess of $1.2 million. As a sire, Albatross's thousands of sons and daughters have won more than $100 million. Artsplace was the1992 O’Brien Award and Dan Patch Award winner as Horse of the Year following an undefeated four-year-old season. He was a two-year-old world record holder winning the Breeders Crown in a time of 1:51.1 at Pompano Park in Florida, soundly defeating champion Die Laughing. He won 37 races and bankrolled over $3 million during his racing career which saw him race many times in Canada before becoming a world class sire. Happy Lady, a daughter of Most Happy Fella, raced in 1977 and 1978 for owners Myra Masterson of St. Catharines, ON and Linda Lockey of Ridgeville. Though her race career was brief, she won $528,825 in purse earnings and attained a mark of 1:55.2. Trained and driven by the late Jim Rankin, she was almost flawless in her juvenile campaign, winning 15 of 16 races. As a sophomore she won 19 of 24 starts. Communicators category selections: Harry Eisen, Bill Galvin and Frank Salive. The late Harry Eisen spent a lifetime loving and covering horse racing in Ontario. As a lifelong journalist, he spent many years exposing the sport to the public, including the majority of his 40 years at the London Free Press. Eisen who once said he saw his first harness race when he was “three or four years old”, sold tip sheets at Dufferin Park Racetrack as a boy. He was inducted into Western Fair’s Wall of Fame in 1980. As a publicist, promoter and author, Bill Galvin, a native of Arnprior, ON made a tremendous impact on horse racing in Canada. Galvin’s promotions transcended racing. He led a charge to bring ice horse racing to the Rideau Canal and expose the sport to thousands of potential fans. He started the Race for MS fundraiser to gain exposure for the sport, and ran numerous other high profile campaigns dedicated to the health of horse racing during his career. Leamington, ON native Frank Salive was known for over 35 years as “The Voice” of Canadian harness racing. During his career it is estimated he called over 100,000 races, becoming a fan and industry favourite for his knowledgeable and informative calls and silky voice. Frank’s career as a track announcer began at Sudbury Downs in the late 70’s and continued at tracks throughout Ontario, includin fourteen years at Ontario Jockey Club/Woodbine Entertainment Group harness tracks and concluding at Pompano Park, Florida. Salive was also a regular writer for the Canadian Sportsman for several years. From the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame
Northfield Park is announcing the addition of a $7,500 Pick-5 total pool guarantee to Friday’s (June 7) program.
It's been over a decade since harness racing driver Sylvain Filion won his first and only Breeders Crown championship. On Saturday night at Woodbine, he'll have half a dozen chances to make a return trip to the winner's circle.
Won The West, two-time divisional champion who boasts harness racing purses of $3.9 million, will be officially retired on Friday night (August 17) at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
Harness racing driver Sylvain Filion took a circuitous route to get to Saturday's $1.5 Hambletonian final at the Meadowlands with Prestidigitator. Last Saturday, flight delays almost caused Filion and Jody Jamieson (driver of Hambletonian elimination winner Knows Nothing) to miss their assignments.
When Ms Goliath lines up behind the gate in the inaugural Girls' Night Out Pacing Series on Friday evening at Mohawk, she possesses one trait that separates herself from her harness racing rivals: she's a mother. Last year, Ms Goliath, an 11-time winner, gave birth to a colt by Bettors Delight named The Right Fit.
Atoka Woodstock continued his hot harness racing streak on Wednesday night (June 13) at Saratoga Casino and Raceway.
Henry and Holliday steal the show on Ladies' Night. There was plenty of great harness racing action on Saturday night, as Hanover Raceway hosted Ladies' Night.
It's no secret that Sylvain Filion has made a name for himself while driving on the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) harness racing circuit. The native of Saint-Andre-D'Argenteuil, Quebec has consecutively earned over $1 million each year since 1993.
It takes a special lady to compete against the boys on the racetrack. Harness racing trainer Jimmy Takter says undefeated See You At Peelers is just that kind of girl. Takter is sending the 3-year-old filly up against a field of five males in Saturday's $307,734 Art Rooney Pace at Yonkers Raceway. (Race 9, estimated 10:10 p.m. post.)
Mach Three three year old Drain Daddy put in a super effort to score in the hands of harness racing driver Rick Zeron in the first elimination of the $500,000 Upper Canada Cup in a swift 1:50.4 to beat another son of Mach Three in Mach It Big driven by Jody Jamieson. Live and Learn (Life Sign) finished third.
If you ever wanted a member of the famous Filion harness racing family to drive your horse well then you are spoilt for choices. There's 25 of them registered to drive in North America and a further 21 listed as trainers. But amidst all of the names there are two that stand out - Herve and his nephew Sylvain.
All 64 of the three-year-olds competing in eight Grassroots harness racing semifinals at Western Fair Raceway on Saturday night (October 16) have the same objective - to earn a berth in next weekend's Championship - but if Texas Seelster falls short of his goal Bob and Barbara Parker will still be smiling all the way home to Dorchester.
The youngest Ontario Sires Stakes harness racing stars will line up in London on Friday, Oct. 15 as Western Fair Raceway plays host to eight $30,000 Grassroots Semifinals for the most gifted two-year-old trotters and pacers in the province.
Just Asign To Me extended his perfect Grassroots harness racing record to four in Tuesday evening's (September 14) two-year-old pacing colt Grassroots showdown at Georgian Downs.