On Wednesday, September 26, a field of eight of Canada’s top harness racing drivers will compete at Grand River Raceway in the 2018 National Driving Championship including two of Rideau Carleton’s regular drivers, Guy Gagnon and Stephane Brosseau.
Not only is the title for Canada’s top harness driver on the line, but the winner will represent Canada in the 2019 World Driving Championship being hosted in Sweden.
Drivers must earn their way into the NDC by finishing first or second at their Regional Driving Championship. Standardbred Canada co-ordinates four Regional events across the country.
Will the fourth time be the charm for Guy Gagnon at the 2018 National Driving Championship (NDC)?
The 49-year-old resident of Gatineau, Quebec, will be making his fourth appearance at the National Driving Championship, to be held Sept. 26 at Grand River Raceway, and is still looking for his first victory. He competed in the 2009, 2014 and 2016 events.
He fell just short in the 2009 event at Fraser Downs in British Columbia, leading into the last race but winding up second when Brad Forward pulled out a win to vault past him and become Canada’s representative at the World Championship in Norway.
The 2019 World Driving Championship is in Sweden, and Gagnon would love to go. “I’m hoping this (NDC) will be my moment. I think it would add another dimension to my career. But even if it isn’t, it`s always fun to participate and represent my region,” said Gagnon, who’s won the regional qualifying tournament for Quebec and Eastern Ontario four consecutive times.
It`s not like him to be shut out of the winner’s circle for long. The leading driver at Rideau-Carleton Raceway in Ottawa for much of the last decade, Gagnon has more than 5,000 career victories, starting with his first at age 19 at Hippodrome de Quebec in Quebec City.
He`s in the top 10 in Canada for total wins (170) and is currently the leading percentage driver in the country by U.R.S. percentage with a .431 rating.
In addition to Rideau, where he’s the busiest catch-driver, Gagnon competes regularly at Hippodrome 3R. He demonstrated his half-mile savvy in this year’s $200,000 Prix d’Ete at Trois-Rivieres, rousing Quebec-owned 16-1 shot American Wiggle to a runner-up finish behind U.S. invader Beckhams Z Tam.
With more than 3,000 career victories and three driving titles at Hippodrome 3R, National Driving Championship finalist Stephane Brosseau clearly has made his mark on standardbred racing in his home province of Quebec.
Like many Quebec horsemen, Brosseau had to find alternative income while the provincial racing industry struggled to rebuild after grinding to a halt a decade ago. For five years, from 2012-2016, he worked on a friend’s food truck and drove part-time.
“Driving was basically a hobby for me at that point. In my mind, I didn’t see myself as a driver anymore,” said Brosseau, whose career highlights had included winning the $200,000 Coupe de L’Avenir final at Blue Bonnets with trotter Star Mocachino in 2002 and the $100,000 Coupe des Eleveurs final for three-year-old pacers with Sams Airborndancer in 2005. He also finished fifth with Curetiba in the 2001 Breeders’ Crown final for two-year-old trotting fillies at Woodbine for trainer Mark Steacy, ‘a big thrill.’
Last year, Brosseau made the decision to return to the sport full-time, driving and training. That resulted in his first driving title at Hippodrome 3R in almost two decades, and he`s on pace to repeat in 2018. He’s qualified for the National Driving Championship, hosted this year by Grand River Raceway on September 26, for the first time.
“I was close to qualifying for the NDC six years ago, even had the favourite in the last race, but the horse quit badly and I missed out. So it’s nice to finally get there.
“Honestly, I think I’m driving now as well as I ever have. I play a lot of hockey and ball hockey to stay fit and I`m in good shape. I keep working on things because you can always get better, regardless of age. To make it to the tournament, I took some chances at Kawartha Downs (in the Eastern Ontario / Quebec Regional on June 30) that I might not have taken five or six years ago,” said Brosseau, runner-up to Guy Gagnon in that event.
Brosseau does most of his driving at Rideau-Carleton in Ottawa and Hippodrome 3R, but he is familiar with most of the other Ontario tracks.
He knows Gagnon well and is a close friend of another NDC competitor, Louis-Philippe Roy, but said he doesn’t see the tournament as a rivalry with them or any of the other participants. “For me, it’s not about beating those guys, it’s about driving as well as I can. If I’m sharp, I know I can be as good as those guys. I want to do my best for me. If I do, I should be close. That would make me very happy.”
The NDC is an eight race event and drivers earn points based upon their finishing positions. Racing starts at 6:30 p.m. at Grand River.
Here is the field of drivers with career wins and earnings:
Gilles Barrieau from Saint John, NB – 4,390 wins and $8.7 million in purse earnings. Gilles won the 2018 Atlantic Regional. After winning the 2007 National Driving Championship (inaugural edition), he went on to represent Canada in the 2007 WDC event in New Zealand & Australia. Gilles also competed in the 2009 and 2011 NDC.
Stephane Brosseau from L’Assomption, Quebec – 3,137 wins and $19.6 million in earnings. Stephane was runner up in the Eastern Ontario / Quebec event, and is a first-time competitor in the NDC.
Redmond Doucet from Inverness, NS – 588 wins and $617,00 in earnings. Redmond was runner-up in the Atlantic Regional and will be making his first appearance in the NDC.
Guy Gagnon, Gatineau, QC – 5,072 wins and $24 million in earnings. Guy won the Eastern Ontario / Quebec Regional and competed in the 2009, 2014, and 2016 NDC.
Jamie Gray, Sturgeon County, AB – 2,476 wins and $11.6 million in earnings. Jamie was runner-up in the Western Regional. This will be his first appearance in the National Driving Championship.
Trevor Henry, Arthur, ON – 6,567 wins and $55 million in purse earnings. Trevor won the Ontario Regional, and competed in the 2011 and 2016 NDC. He was Canada’s representative to the 2013 WDC in France following Jody Jamieson’s scratch.
Kelly Hoerdt from Beaumont, AB – 1,991 wins and $12.7 million in earnings. Kelly won the Western Regional event and competed in the 2009 NDC.
Louis-Philippe Roy from Guelph, ON (native of Quebec) 1,041 wins and $12.3 million in earnings. Louis was runner up in the Ontario Regional and this is his first time competing in the NDC.