The 27-year-old Quebec native has rocketed to the top in his first year on the WEG circuit.
by Brett Sturman
Through nearly the first half of this year, driver Louis-Philippe Roy (full story here) has taken the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) racing circuit by storm. And this is not due to accident or chance.
Roy, 27, showed signs of a unique talent as far back as six years ago while driving obscure tracks on the Quebec fair circuit at the age of 21. Accomplishments such as winning eight races in a day, and then winning six races a few days later at a track called Club De Course Bonaventure by a combined winning margin of over 50 lengths is how legends are made. During those same years in a limited number of county fair starts, Roy was putting up impossible seasonal UDRS numbers of .691 and .607.
One can’t help but be impressed by the undeniable skill exhibited by Roy in his early career. He wins at WEG for any trainer, and does it equally as well on or off the pace. He drives with light hands and quick reflexes, both the markings of a naturally gifted driver. Roy has even become quite adept at driving trotters, which is impressive considering horses of that gait were non-existent on the Quebec fair tracks.
At one point last fall it appeared all but certain that Roy was departing his native Quebec for the United States, although those plans have been put on hold at least for the time being as he has settled in nice at WEG instead.
Assessing his situation and next moves, Roy says “Things have changed a little bit in the last six months as I have had a lot of success here on the WEG circuit; a thing that I didn’t think would happen so fast.”
Roy describes his preferences for the WEG tracks of Woodbine and Mohawk over Yonkers (which was where he was reported to be landing if he relocated to the U.S.) by stating, “I really like to drive on the big tracks more so than on a half-mile track, and that’s what makes the WEG tracks the best place for me to race on a regular basis, in comparison to Yonkers where you race for more money but it’s a different racing style.”
While Roy’s U.S. plans have been put on hold, it seems inevitable that he’ll be driving in the States at some point, even if on a race by race basis. Roy acknowledged that the rich stakes season in the U.S. is something that at some point could lure him away from Canada if the situation was right, and he added that, “If I get the opportunity (to drive horses in the US) that I would like to do it for sure.”
Roy – being modest – gives credit for his success at WEG to the quality of opportunities and good horses trainers and owners give him. But that’s only a part of it. Roy obviously first exhibited some kind of talent to earn those drives.
Similar to other top drivers, Roy can’t explain exactly what allows him to get the most out of horses he drives. Roy says, “The actors that I respect the most in the harness racing industry are the horses. I always try my best to understand them, and help them do what is the best for the horses in order to get good results.”
Last Saturday, Roy neatly guided the recently transformed Richard Moreau-trained mare Dewar N Soda to the Mohawk winner’s circle and it marked his 108th win between Mohawk and Woodbine this year, good for a current four-win advantage over Doug McNair who sits in second amongst WEG drivers with 104 wins.
A look at the standings throughout the year shows just how quickly Roy has caught on.
At the end of January, Roy was tied for fourth in a log jam of drivers that followed McNair, trailing that driver by 27-10. By the end of February, Roy trailed McNair by an even wider margin of 57 to 33, although he was emerging out of the pack from the others as the second most winning driver. From there, Roy caught fire. He narrowed the gap to just a 75-66 deficit in March and fell just short of catching McNair by the end of the Woodbine meet, 85-81. McNair and Roy finished Woodbine with UDRS’ of .354 and .330 respectively, far and away better than anyone other driver that meet.
Early in the Mohawk meet, Roy has picked up right where he left off at Woodbine. He leads McNair 27-13 while sporting a UDRS of .343, and is doing so despite the recent conspicuous absence of trainer Rene Allard. Certainly, being that trainer’s first call on horses throughout the winter helped Roy pick up steam, but he’s already shown that he isn’t dependent on any one trainer for success.
Today at Mohawk, Roy’s services are in demand by nearly every trainer, large stables and small ones. He’s often listed on two or three horses per race, and Roy has an impact today on the way bettor’s see races based on which horses Roy ends up selecting. For example, many of Roy’s drives now come on Moreau-trained horses, and it can be very telling if Roy opts off a Moreau horse for someone else. And as Roy has gained in stature, it’s enabled him to get more breaks on the track and for him to have a greater influence in the outcome of races, by his ability to get horses in positions he wants them to be in.
What makes Roy’s story even that more impressive is that he is a self-made man in the industry. He didn’t have the name recognition or family power to get him started in ways that many other top drivers have been afforded. Short of his father dabbling with racehorses when Roy was young, he’s a guy that’s genuinely from outside the industry and had to break through over the past couple of years as an unknown driver against far more established types.
Wherever Roy’s career takes him from here, it’s clear what we’re witnessing isn’t a blip on the radar. His rise from nowhere to where he stands today in this short of a time is near unprecedented, and it’s not hyperbole to say that this may only be the beginning of one of the all-time great careers.