Simon Allard and John MacDonald, the top two drivers at Rideau Carlton Raceway in Ottawa, Ontario in 2012 will face off against each other this weekend at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
Allard won last year’s Rideau Carlton title with 389 wins to MacDonald’s 243, after MacDonald had won the previous three seasons.
MacDonald made his debut in East Rutherford, NJ last week with a handful of drives, and stormed home to his first Meadowlands win with 17-1 upsetter Firethorn, one of his own shippers.
Allard certainly knows his way around the Big M, having raced here periodically over the past two seasons, and mainly driving for his brother, trainer Rene Allard.
The 30-year-old Allard, from Saint-Esprit, Quebec, just finished a strong 2012 campaign with 457 wins and $2.8 million in purses.
“I’ll be visiting Daniel Dube, who is having back surgery, and my brother asked me to come down,” said Allard, on way back from a Florida vacation. “The timing was right. I’ll be driving some at the Meadowlands and Yonkers. I definitely enjoy driving at the Big M. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to make any long term commitment right now.”
Simon’s brother, Rene put up career best numbers in 2012, with 453 wins and $3.8 million, and was Canada’s leading percentage stable at .465. He won the Rideau Carlton title, and at age 26, he is the youngest trainer to pass 1,500 wins with 1,719. The younger Allard has a strong contingent in the Tri-State area.
“Again, my brother wants me here, yet things really worked out back in Ottawa,” noted Simon. “Last year was one of my best years, I was able to be home, and I cut down on my travel expenses. But the situation with the possible cancellation of the slots program in Ontario has everybody on edge. I love the Meadowlands. You guys work hard and make the racing exciting. Rene has a lot of live horses, so I’m excited and ready to go.”
Meanwhile, John MacDonald has hit the road again as well, looking to make a possible move from his home in Russell, Ontario. The 30-year-old from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island was born into the sport, and settled in the Ottawa area 12 years ago.
“My uncle had a stable at Bayama Farms in Quebec, so I moved there for a couple of years to work for him right out of high school,” MacDonald recalled. “My father trained horses in PEI his whole life, so I grew up doing it and I loved it. There wasn’t any money in it there and people still do it for a hobby. It’s pretty hard to make a living at it.”
MacDonald has carved out a successful niche for himself in the nation’s capitol.
“I’ve been racing at Rideau Carlton for about ten years as a trainer and driver,” he noted. “I don’t have any horses up there. I usually keep between five and eight of my own. I’m mainly a catch driver right now. I was leading driver for three years in a row before Simon Allard won last year. Fortunately, I’m picking up some of his drives now that he’s in New Jersey.”
Like many horsemen in Ontario, MacDonald is trying to deal with the element of uncertainty.
“I’m traveling around right now because of the possible cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program in Ontario,” he said. “There’s an election in the Spring, and nobody really knows what’s going to happen. I raced at Vernon Downs last Summer. I’m heading to Pompano Park right after I race at the Meadowlands on Saturday. I was thinking of moving there or New York for the Winter. I’m just leaving my options open and touring around to see what’s out there. I have a four-acre hobby farm up here. I built a five-stall barn and spent some money on the place. It’s 20 minutes from the track, and it would be kind of hard to move away from it.
“This Winter I had a couple of horses in the top classes at Rideau Carlton, and those classes weren’t filling. The track got really icy here and the horses didn’t handle wearing corks very well. Plus, my owner wants to claim a couple more quality horses.”
MacDonald struck gold on his initial venture to the Big M last Saturday, putting a new lifetime mark of 1:51.2 on Firethorn, a seven-year-old son of Dragon Again, who is now under the care of trainer Jason Ricco.
“Firethorn hadn’t raced in a few weeks,” said MacDonald. “We just took back from post ten and tried to get him into the flow. The race just unfolded perfectly for him. He’s got some arthritis in his joints and the track really agreed with him. He felt like a new horse. I knew Jason Ricco’s wife, who is from Quebec City, and I was looking for a smaller stable that could get my horses in every week. Jason is at Mark Ford’s training center in Middletown, NY. He’s in tougher this week, and we’ll employ a similar strategy.
“I learned a lot from my first few drives over the mile track. It’s a completely different type of racing. You really have to use your head a lot more. It’s actually easy on one hand because you’re driving with the best in the world. There’s a lot of flow, which gives everybody a chance to win, and an outside post is not such a disadvantage.”
Rideau Carlton announcer, Norm Borg has affectionately referred to MacDonald as “The Prime Minister” after the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald, whose face appears on the ten dollar bill.
“They don’t make a real big deal out of it here. I had an owner who was a member of the federal government Liberal Party here, and I used to visit him at the Parliament buildings all the time. I drive by the Prime Minister’s residence all the time, but I have not met him. I will say I’m glad NHL hockey is back. I’m a huge fan, and I play in a men’s league twice a week.”
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