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.
“It was unbelievable,” recalled the 43-year-old reinsman. “That was a very treacherous day. We were going to fly commercial and it kept being delayed because planes were grounded in Newark due to thunderstorms. So, Jody Jamieson arranged to have a friend fly us from Burlington to the Poconos. That’s as far he could fly us. From there, we rented a car, and let’s just say we drove very fast in the pouring rain. When we got here I could see the starting gate taking off for the fourth race, and Prestidigitator was in the fifth.”
Filion is looking for a smoother trip this week with Prestidigitator, who will start from post six in the final.
Prestidigitator qualified for the Hambletonian final by finishing third in his elimination race. The colt was carried wide around both turns and still managed to rally for third (timed in 1:54) behind Hambletonian favorite, Uncle Peter.
“To me, this colt was always a special horse,” said Filion. “He’s not the easiest horse to drive, but he’s got so much potential. I never had to push him much until last week. It was unreal. I think he went a mile and a quarter. My dad [Ives] asked me if I was making sure it was a mile track! We’ll look for a shorter route this time!
Aside from getting in an acclimating mile at the Big M, Prestidigitator bounced back from breaking stride in the Canadian Breeders Championship at Mohawk.
“The week before, when he made the break, he got pinched a bit but he was also not 100 percent,” noted Filion. “Yet when he’s right, he’s a tremendous horse. Last week, he felt maybe 90 percent. If we can get that 10 percent back and a decent trip we have as good a shot as anybody else in the race. I think we’ll get enough speed to shoot at. I’m very pleased with our post position. It’s just perfect. Uncle Peter is the main contender, and Knows Nothing raced well. He’s the other the colt by Kadabra, and that sire has done a great job for Ontario.”
Trained by Dustin Jones, the Kadabra colt was a $120,000 Harrisburg yearling, and has earnings of $445,943 for Serge Godin’s Ecurie Synergie of Montreal, Quebec. Prestidigitator has been a star in the Ontario Sires Stakes program, and capped his freshman season with an 8-1/4 length win in the Super Final at Woodbine in 1:56.3. He also finished fourth in the Breeders Crown.
Filion is looking forward to lining up alongside a special friend at the starting gate in the Hambletonian.
“When I was really young, Mike Lachance [who will drive MVP] and my dad would race at the same tracks, and Mike would babysit me. I know he won with the longest shot in Hambletonian history [Amigo Hall at 27-1 in 2003]. You can never count him out.”
Filion will also driver Panther Hanover in the $275,000 Anthony Abbatiello SBOA New Jersey Classic on Saturday after that colt finished second in his elimination. The Quebec native is one of the leading drivers on the Woodbine Entertainment Group circuit. He comes off a career year in 2011 with $6.4 million in purses won, and is cautiously optimistic about the future despite the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks program in Ontario.
“Yes, last year was a very good season, and so far 2012 has been even better. I live in Milton and I’m actually just catch driving right now. It’s tough what’s happening right now in Ontario, but I’m just going to wait and see. Hopefully, the WEG tracks will work something out with the Provincial Government.”
“My relationship with [trainer] Dustin Jones goes back over 20 years, and I’ve been fortunate to be his go-to- man for the past few seasons. Last year, he made a big move from Quebec and bought a farm in Campbellville, right near Mohawk. The recent news is tough for him to deal with. It makes winning these big races mean even more and also kind of bittersweet. It may be just once in a lifetime.
“I’ve been in Ontario close to four years. I was here before that in 1999 to 2001 because things were not doing too well in Quebec. I went back home when they got more money for their sires stakes, but then more recently they had shut down racing.
“My father, Ives still operates Bayama Farms in Quebec. He’s racing a few in Ottawa at Rideau Carlton, and five or six in the Toronto area. At one point, he had maybe 150 horses, counting broodmares. It was probably the largest operation in that province. They’re trying to revive the industry there, but it’s going to be a very long process.
“Definitely, my greatest experience came driving Goliath Bayama. He was ‘The Monster from Montreal’. In 2001, we won the Breeders Crown and the US Pacing Championship back-to-back at the Meadowlands. He was second to The Panderosa in the 1999 North America Cup and made $1.5 million. He’s still standing in Ontario, but he’s not breeding many mares at age 16. Serge Godin also owns him now. He bought him off my dad.”
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