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Handicapping the Big Ones

January 27, 2017

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HRU asked a number of industry insiders to handicap who will win O’Brien Awards for Canada’s Horse of the Year, Trainer of the Year and Driver of the Year when the awards are handed out Saturday night in the Toronto area.

The winners of all of the O’Brien Awards honoring the best in Canadian harness racing for 2016 will remain a mystery until the hardware — named for the Canadian-born Hall of Famer Joe O’Brien — is handed out, Oscars-style, Saturday night at a black tie gala in Mississauga, ON.

Harness Racing Update asked a number of prominent industry people to handicap who will win three of the biggest awards of the night.

The Horse of the Year Award is open to all horses that are finalists, the Trainer of the Year race is between Richard Moreau, who has won the award the last three straight years, and five-time winner Casie Coleman. The Driver of the Year award will be between 2016 Canadian dash king and first-time finalist Bob McClure and earnings leader and three-time winner and defending champ Sylvain Filion.

Keep in mind, O’Brien voters are tasked with selecting the people and horses that made “the greatest contribution to Canadian racing” in 2016 and, to be eligible, horses had to make at least three starts in the country during the year and trainers had to have at least 30 per cent of their starts in Canada.

Jim Lawson / CEO Woodbine Entertainment Group

Horse of the Year – Betting Line

Betting Line. Any time you can accumulate that kind of record and, for good measure, throw in victories in the NA Cup and Little Brown Jug, then that is good enough for me!

Trainer of the Year — Casie Coleman

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

Dean Towers / HRU columnist

Horse of the Year — Marion Marauder

I don’t think you can fit the “contribution to Canadian racing” angle any better than with Marion Marauder. Call me old-fashioned, but I still have great respect for the trotting Triple Crown, and Marion Marauder accomplished that rare feat. He even did it with a Canadian driver. He’s not only a wonderful racehorse, but also a really good story.

Trainer of the Year — Richard Moreau

This is often one of the most difficult choices to make each year, both north and south of the border. Is the criteria tilted towards money and stable management, or big horses winning big races? Looking at the sheer power and depth of the Richard Moreau stable is frightening, and I think he probably deserves the nod.

Driver of the Year — Bob McClure

This is also one of the more interesting votes each year, because often we have a dash-winning driver toiling mostly on the “B” tracks versus the Woodbine/Mohawk leader, who earned some nice stakes wins. Examining the numbers I think I’d lean to Bob McClure. This isn’t the pre-slots era where massive amounts of race dates allowed drivers on smaller tracks to rack up wins and plenty of money. It’s much more competitive and much harder to achieve success now. Bob has been nothing short of a star, and $3 million in earnings on the rough and tumble Jr. circuit is ridiculously impressive to me, and oh so Canadian harness racing.

Gordon Waterstone / The Horseman And Fair World

Horse of Year — Wiggle It Jiggleit

This was a very tough choice as there were other leading candidates. But how can you not give the nod to Wiggle It Jiggleit and all he achieved last year? It seemed every race he was in became an “instant classic.” His victories included the Canadian Pacing Derby, which solidified the belief that he is the right pick.

Trainer of Year — Casie Coleman

In a perfect case of “quality and not quantity,” Casie exceled in 2016 despite a reduction in her stable size. She also has to be rewarded for sending out Betting Line, whose victories included the North America Cup and Little Brown Jug. Already a five-time winner of this O’Brien Award, she should now start counting trophies with her second hand.

Driver of Year — Sylvain Filion

He led Canadian drivers in earnings in ’16, and with a resume that includes three O’Brien finalists — Beyond Delight, Emoticon Hanover and Yaris Bayama — he’s my choice.

Paul Delean / Veteran Racing Writer

Horse of the Year — Betting Line.

His North America Cup victory, coupled with Ontario Sires Stakes dominance, makes him a lock.

Trainer of the Year — Richard Moreau

Moreau, by a nose. He got the nod the three previous years and actually improved his purse total in 2016.

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

Bob McClure is getting there, but Sylvain Filion is in his prime and deserves another award.

Garnet Barnsdale / Daily Racing Form

Horse of the Year — Marion Marauder

I think this comes down to Betting Line and Marion Marauder, both who had outstanding seasons. I think the voters may be swayed by Marion Marauder’s trotting Triple Crown win — which is historic — and he will win by a nose; but both horses are obviously very deserving winners and it could go both ways.

Trainer of the Year — Casie Coleman

If Betting Line was a length or two closer at the three-quarter pole in his season’s debut, he’d have chased down his elder opponent Jins Shark and he would have had an undefeated season. That trainer Coleman kept him at the very top of his game all year will likely sway the vote her way in this category.

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

It’s hard to imagine a driver who won at a 23.8 per cent clip while leading the nation in winning 576 races from 2,418 starts not winning in this category, and based on the great season he had in 2016, Bob McClure is certainly a worthy nominee, but it seems likely that Sylvain Filion’s body of work may hold more weight with voters. Filion led the nation in earnings by a wide gap ($2.5 million), helped by a signature win in the biggest race for two-year-olds, the Metro Pace, with Beyond Delight. Nod to Filion.

Brett Sturman / HRU Handicapping columnist

Horse of the Year — Wiggle It Jiggleit

Give credit to the connections of Wiggle It Jiggleit for bringing the fan favorite champion to Canada for not only the Canadian Pacing Derby in which he won, but for showcasing him in races at Flamboro Downs and the Hippodrome Trois-Rivieres in Quebec. Take nothing away from Shamballa, but Wiggle It Jiggleit is overwhelmingly deserving of the award.

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

Sylvain Filion was super this year at Woodbine and Mohawk, winning the driving titles at both tracks by close to 50 driving wins at each one and racking up close to $8 million in earnings in the process. There’s no doubt this was a breakout year for Bob McClure in the way he dominated many of the smaller tracks and his time will come, just not right now.

Trainer of the Year — Richard Moreau

Richard Moreau led a powerhouse stable throughout the year and once again cruised in the total number of training wins. Casie Coleman’s Betting Line did win the North America Cup and Little Brown Jug, although I suspect a bit of controversy that came out of the latter race might cost her in this category.

Moira Fanning / Hambletonian Society

Horse of the Year — Marion Marauder

I cannot imagine voting for anyone other than Marion Marauder. Not only did the horse win the Triple Crown, which is an extremely hard thing to do, but comes from a family legacy that cannot be more Canadian and the owners cannot be more deserving.

Trainer of the Year — Richard Moreau

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

I believe Richard Moreau will win trainer of the year and Sylvain Filion driver of the year because of the past performance trend of the voters.

Mark McKelvie / WEG standardbred communications

Horse of the Year — Marion Marauder

His biggest victories may have come on American soil, but in each of those races it felt like Marion Marauder was racing for the Maple Leaf. Marion Marauder’s connections have deep roots in Canadian racing and it was evident throughout the season that fans and horsepeople in Canada were proud to call the star trotter one of their own. O’Brien Award voters are asked to vote based on “greatest contribution to Canadian racing” and I don’t see how any other horse could top a Canadian owned and trained Triple Crown winner.

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

Filion’s numbers and dominance on the WEG circuit in 2016 make him the clear choice. He topped $7 million in seasonal earnings for just the second-time in his career and also surpassed $100 million in career earnings. It seemed on many nights at Mohawk and Woodbine he lived in the winner’s circle. Filion didn’t just clean up in overnights, he also had success in major events such as the Metro Pace and OSS Super Finals.

Trainer of the Year — Richard Moreau

Moreau has won this award three years in a row and instead of plateauing or even having a drop off in 2016, he raised the bar by surpassing $4 million in single-season earnings for the first time in his career. His barn was red-hot from start to finish and his success was felt nightly on the WEG Circuit as he captured another training title.

Greg Blanchard / Director of Racing The Raceway at The Western Fair District

Horse of the Year – Betting Line

He will be tough to overlook for this honor. He was dominant against a very good three-year-old crop and compiled an almost perfect resume while often winning in breathtaking fashion.

Trainer of the Year – Richard Moreau

He maintained his steady production throughout this past season. He sent out winners at every level and his high profile performers kept him in the spotlight. I think he adds another O’Brien to his growing trophy case.

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

He has blossomed into an elite driver in his second go-round on the WEG circuit. I think his productivity against the sport’s best and his record in the big money races will give him a slight edge over his fellow finalist.

Bob Heyden / Meadowlands broadcaster and historian

Horse of the Year — Betting Line

It better be! OMG! No brainer here. He swept all the major events — in ultra-convincing style — and the only reason he wasn’t Horse Of The Year were some end-of-the-season mishaps that were 100 per cent not his doing. He was 14-for-15 and won the NA Cup over Racing Hill. Betting Line is headed off to Hanover Shoe Farm, hopefully with the O’Brien Award in tow.

Trainer of the Year — Casie Coleman

Betting Line’s North America Cup effort, sweeping the OSS and the final, along with a good supporting cast. Even though Casie is not the presence in Canada she was a decade ago, she did more than enough to warrant a Trainer of the Year O’Brien statue. Remember, too, that no other trainer — ever — has had more than three straight seasons of a sophomore colt or gelding surpassing $750,000 each year. Casie did it five straight years from 2010 to 2014. I know this is not retroactive, but it gives the voter a better sense of what she’s done and her place in history —even at such a young age.

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

He’s about to win this for the fourth time in seven seasons. Beyond Delight, Emoticon Hanover, Yoris Bayama, Sylvain is the rare son of a top horseman who has outdone dad. Yves Filion, one of eight driving Filion brothers, was the only one to win a million-dollar race when he took the 1988 North America Cup with Runnymede Lobell. Sylvain has progressed nicely through the past decade and is improving with age. Although he’s not a Sears or a Tetrick or a Gingras, he’s held his own with all the big names of the past decade.

Melissa Keith / Racing Writer

Horse of the Year — Marion Marauder

The trotting Triple Crown; the Goodtimes, on home turf at Mohawk; the familiar, respected Keeling and Wellwood families: it’s hard to dispute the appeal of Marion Marauder. Supplementing him to the Kentucky Futurity was widely, and correctly, viewed as a very sporting gesture; his expected return to the track for a four-year-old campaign also resonated with many.

Trainer of the Year — Richard Moreau

A tough call, but Moreau’s dominance on the WEG scene has impressed O’Brien voters sufficiently to win him the last three consecutive Trainer of the Year titles. Five-time Canadian Trainer of the Year Coleman had an attention-grabbing season with Betting Line in particular, but Moreau’s greater numbers (starts, wins, earnings) and Canadian visibility suggest voters will likely give the nod to the latter.

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

Money talks, and in 2016, Filion made more of it than all but one previous year (2012) — over $7.8 million. Bob McClure’s 576 seasonal wins came on the lower-profile tracks that fail to grab the imagination of voters on a national scale. A three-time Driver of the Year associated with a trio of 2016 equine O’Brien finalists (Beyond Delight, Emoticon Hanover and Yaris Bayama), WEG stalwart Filion appears on the brink of a repeat.

Anthony MacDonald / Trainer / Owner Thestable.ca

Horse of the Year — Wiggle It Jiggleit

Watching Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit go at it all year was something special. I think as an outsider in the industry, the feud was lost on us. I can’t remember two horses dominate a division that was so stacked like that. They’re always has to be a winner, and that was Miki, but he did not race enough in Canada to be eligible. So, Wiggle It Jiggleit takes this one.

Trainer of the Year — Richard Moreau

These two trainers have represented Canada very well for a very long time. This is the toughest race to call, but as Casie has scaled back her operation and enjoys life, Richard has turned Ontario into his playground. For that reason alone I’ll choose Richard.

Driver of the Year — Sylvain Filion

Bob McClure certainly made waves in 2016 and deserves to be on this ticket. Unfortunately, Sylvain Filion stood out again this year, and this is a tough place to do that.

Former Ontario trainer (who requested anonymity)

Horse of the Year — Marion Marauder
Hands down. Triple crown, Hambo, Canadian owned and trained!

Trainer of the Year — Casie Coleman

Repeat Jug winner… races at the top end. My logical choice!

Driver of the Year — Bob McClure

McClure shows he’s a factor for the future… Good hands, any size track and he stepped into WEG and did well. He gets my vote!

Shannon “Sugar” Doyle / Race caller The Raceway at The Western Fair District

Horse of the Year — Betting Line

It has to be Betting Line. He was just such a dominant force in his category. NA Cup + Jug winner — those are two of the bigger races that any three-year-old pacer wants to win.

Trainer of the Year — Richard Moreau

Moreau has been the top conditioner on Canada’s biggest circuit and will likely continue to do so in the years to come. Well deserved for Moreau once again for 2016.

Driver of the Year — Bob McClure

Pegged this one as too close to call… Sylvain, the top money earner on Canada’s biggest circuit, who continues to do well every year, vs, Bob, Canada’s top winning driver in 2016, who some ‘could say’ may have had the bigger impact on Canadian racing this past year. The slight edge, if I have to, goes to young gun Bob McClure.

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