(Photos of Sylvain Filion, Trevor Henry, On A Sunny Day and Percy Bluechip courtesy New Image Media)
Eight division champions will be crowned on Saturday during the $1.8 million Super Finals at Mohawk Racetrack and the Ontario Sires Stakes season finale will also determine the 2017 Lampman Cup winner.
Drivers Sylvain Filion and Trevor Henry are tied atop the Lampman Cup standings with 348 points, meaning the fight for top spot could extend all the way through the final race of the season.
“I didn’t think I was near the front, I didn’t think I had enough points,” said Milton, ON resident Filion, who made a late run up the standings in the final weeks of the regular season to catch early leader Henry. “We’ll give him a run for it. I’m sure he thinks the same way too.”
Reigning title-holder Filion has amassed a record of 27 wins, 24 seconds and 15 thirds from 138 Ontario Sires Stakes starts and Henry has scored 24 wins, 17 seconds and 28 thirds from 145 starts. Henry’s mounts have earned $1,310,532, while Filion’s have banked $1,289,859. Filion has prevailed in the driver race four times, in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016, while Henry captured his first title in 1996 and added a second in 2007.
“It’s always nice to be on top, that’s always good. If you’re not up there you’re not making any money,” said a pragmatic Henry. The Arthur, ON resident has mounts in seven of the eight Finals while Filion will appear in all eight.
Bolstering both men’s chances of adding another Lampman Cup to their resume are commitments to division point leaders, with Henry steering three-year-old pacing filly leader Action Majesty, two-year-old pacing colt leader Shadow Moon and two-year-old pacing filly co-leader Percy Bluechip and Filion piloting three-year-old trotting filly leader On A Sunny Day.
Heading into the $225,000 Super Final off a track, Ontario Sires Stakes and Canadian record set at Grand River Raceway on Sept. 27, On A Sunny Day will be among the heaviest favourites on Filion’s dance card and the reinsman is optimistic about her chances of landing the division title.
“She drew pretty good. I think if we get the right trip she has a really good shot,” said Filion of the Luc Blais trainee who will start from Post 3 in the eighth race. “She comes in on top form, and she’s been trotting really good.”
While Henry has been aboard division leaders Shadow Moon and Percy Bluechip for all of their Ontario Sires Stakes starts, and will send the Dr. Ian Moore trainees after their respective division titles from Post 6 in Race 5 and Post 5 in Race 9, Saturday will mark his first appearance in Action Majesty’s race bike.
“Gregg had asked me to drive the one,” said Henry of the Gregg McNair trainee, who will start from Post 8 while her stablemate The Joy Luck Club lines up at Post 6 with Doug McNair in the bike. “She looks all right, but that’s a tough bunch too.”
Among the horses Henry expects to put up a fight in the three-year-old pacing filly showdown is reigning Super Final champion Yaris Bayama, who will start from Post 10 with Filion at the helm.
“Two of my father’s didn’t draw so well, Tymal Peacemaker and Yaris Bayama,” noted Filion. “But he came down this week and trained them on Tuesday before the qualifiers and he said that they trained really good. He was a little disappointed with that draw, but he said that they were going in in top form so hopefully we get a good trip.”
Yves Filion’s Bayama Farms owns Yaris Bayama and Tymal Peacemaker, and both horses are trained by Stephane Larocque. Three-year-old pacing gelding Tymal Peacemaker will line up at Post 9 in the tenth race, the only Super Final in which Henry does not have a mount.
Henry will also spend some time on the outside of the starting gate Saturday, beginning with two-year-old trotting filly Smoke And Mirrors, who gets Post 10 for trainer Richard “Nifty” Norman in the second race.
“She raced really well there (Mohawk) her last start (Sept. 25), come from a long ways out. She’s in good shape I think,” said Henry of the Kadabra daughter. “She has the ten-hole though, which will be tough.”
Henry will also pilot two-year-old trotting gelding Perfetto for Norman from Post 4 in the sixth race, the only contest that will see him start elbow to elbow with Filion, who steers Jimmy Takter trainee Cousin Rickard from Post 5.
In the three-year-old trotting colt battle Henry will steer On First from Post 9 for his wife, trainer Shannon Henry, and his co-owners David Darocy and James Fleming, while Filion has R First Class for trainer Benoit Baillargeon.
“He’s been racing really, really good and his last start there (Sept. 25) he really won easy,” said Filion of R First Class, who drew Post 3 in the third race. “I was talking to Ben yesterday, he said he trained good this week and he’s all ready for Saturday. We drew good and I just cross my fingers I’m able to avoid traffic and troubles. If we get a clear track I think we’ve got a good shot.”
In addition to Action Majesty Henry also picked up a drive aboard three-year-old trotting filly Paradise Image (Post 8) for trainer Mike Keeling and Filion landed Allerage Stargazer (Post 2) in the two-year-old trotting filly division for trainer Paul Reid, St Lads Neptune (Post 4) in the two-year-old pacing colt division for trainer Carl Jamieson and two-year-old pacing filly Machnhope (Post 10) for trainer Bill Robinson.
Reid, who will also start two-year-old trotting gelding Torches Pirate (Post 7), three-year-old trotting filly Sweet Of My Heart (Post 5) and two-year-old pacing fillies Just Her Luck (Post 1) and Kendall Seelster (Post 2) on Saturday, has worked with both Filion and Henry this season and says it is no surprise they are in a battle for top spot in the driver standings.
“I have utmost respect for both of them. I would put them on any horse of mine, either one of them,” said Reid. “I think Trevor’s the more aggressive guy and seems to get along with any trotter or pacer, whereas Sylvain is more relaxed, he seems to create the same speed, but in a more relaxed way.”
Whether making their first appearance behind a horse or guiding one of their regular mounts, both Filion and Henry will be battling to the wire in every race on Saturday, hoping to deliver a Super Final trophy to each horse’s connections.
“It’s going to be a big day for the breeders and the owners,” said Filion, noting the Lampman Cup race is of secondary concern. “They’ve been watching their horses all year and cheering for them all year and now they get to see them in the Final. That’s a big night for them.”
Mohawk Racetrack’s first race goes in behind the gate at 7:30 pm on Saturday, with the eight $225,000 Super Finals going postward in Races 2 through 6 and 8 through 10.