Paquet’s passion is infectious

Quebec’s Ghislain Paquet is taking a page from his Passion Courses social media presence in his role as a Mohawk handicapper.

by Melissa Keith

Woodbine Mohawk Park bettors know the name Ghislain Paquet. His selections appear on the track’s simulcast show and social media. They may also know him personally. The personable 48-year-old from Quebec City attended this year’s North America Cup at the Campbellville racetrack as a media member and was a guest race caller at Red Shores Charlottetown last Saturday (Aug. 20). In 2022, Paquet marked three decades of contributing to the media and wagering side of the game.

“I know and I am friends with many people in Ontario,” he told HRU. “With the unexpected great success of my ‘Passion Courses’ site, this is where the idea of inviting me to become the first analyst-handicapper from Quebec at the biggest oval in Canada came from. I couldn’t refuse this offer that I accepted six months ago.”

“Passion Courses” is Paquet’s French-language Facebook and YouTube channel, where he conducts interviews, tours the occasional farm, and talks racing.

“I decided to create Passion Courses in 2000 in order to shed more light on the harness racing industry and the horsepeople of Quebec, many of whom excel from all over America,” he said. “I’m in love with this sport, this industry.”

It was a family interest when Ghislain was growing up, but only among certain family members.

“My father Robert and his brothers went to the races in Quebec and Trois-Rivières. From the age of six, seven, I was attracted to this sport that I have not left 40 years later. I love competition. A real passion.”

Handicapping was a natural evolution of Paquet’s early interest.

“Dad was a great amateur gambler,” he recalled. “It was the entertainment side that attracted him to going to the racetracks. I am the only racehorse enthusiast in the family. Neither my brother, nor my sister, nor mom were attracted like me. On the other hand, my sister loves to bet on the races on occasion.”

Thirty years ago, Paquet began his race calling career, which has fluctuated with the fortunes of the game in his home province.

“With a diploma in communications in my pocket, I became an announcer at the Quebec racetrack in 1992,” he said. “I was 17. I’ve been told by some that I [was] the youngest professional racetrack announcer in North America. I don’t know, actually.”

He was track announcer at Hippodrome de Québec from 1992 until its closure in 2009. There is a YouTube video of his final, trackside race call there, posted by Josiane Bergeron, which shows Paquet’s expressions instead of the race itself.

Someone shouts “Bravo Ghislain!” as he puts the microphone away, his face shifting from vivid enthusiasm to visible disappointment. 

“I was also the voice of Trois-Rivières [Hippodrome 3R] from 1998 to 2008, in addition to being the voice of the Regional Circuit [Circuit régional des courses de chevaux du Québec] since the early 2000s,” he said, mentioning the popular matinee races that have outlived all but one pari-mutuel track in the province. “As long as I can remember, I have been announcing Regional Circuit [Fair Circuit] races – for more than 20 years. I love the friendly and family atmosphere there. It is a perfect school for young horses as well as young horse people. Let’s never forget that one of the top drivers in the country, Louis-Philippe Roy, is a 100 per cent Regional Circuit student. It’s funny when I think I described [called] Louis’ first races.”

Paquet has also had guest race calls at Hippodrome de Montréal (2010), Georgian Downs (2012), and Red Shores and Charlottetown Driving Park (2009, 2022).

He diversified his career after local year-round racing declined.

“When the races stopped in Quebec, I became a hockey game host in a sports restaurant [La Cage aux Sports, Montreal Canadiens], in addition to doing video advertising for certain businesses and companies, as well as some advertising [voiceover] contracts,” he said.

But le passion des courses always remained within Paquet and thousands of other Quebec racegoers. When the four provincial tracks closed in 2009, an instant ban on off-track wagering accompanied the shutdown.

Jamie Martin, then senior vice-president of racing for Woodbine Entertainment, was quoted as stating that half a million dollars was missing from weekly handle at Mohawk and Woodbine ever since Quebeckers became unable to bet.

“Quebecers have always been big fans of horse racing,” said Paquet. “Blue Bonnets [later renamed Hippodrome de Montréal] was once one of the two biggest tracks in America. There are so many good Quebecers from all over Canada and the USA that it’s natural for us to take an interest in them and follow them.”

Until he joined the roster of Mohawk handicappers, Paquet was perhaps best known for announcing the extra-distance Le 5 Milles endurance race. “The popularity of this great Quebec classic was indescribable. I have described perhaps 20 of them,” he told HRU. First established over a century ago, the 10-lap pace eventually moved from Quebec to the Circuit régional tracks.

Handicapping for Woodbine Mohawk Park is a perfect fit for the dedicated student of the game. He recalled the thrill of calling specific races, like Royal Becquet’s 1:54.2h track record at Quebec, set on Aug. 30, 2009, and watching stars such as Always B Miki, Wiggle It Jiggle It, and Tall Dark Stranger. “I also have fun driving horses at the fairs, I love it a lot,” he said. “I think it’s very difficult to take that passion away from us. It’s like a passion for life.”

On North America Cup night at Mohawk, Paquet was working and also busy translating for some older horsemen who accompanied him from Quebec. Last Saturday at Red Shores Charlottetown, he cheered for Quebec-owned Major Hill in the Gold Cup and Saucer, accompanied by family and friends. Monday night, Paquet’s “He’s Back” selection in Mohawk’s race 10 (Fabrizio N) returned $8 to win. Tuesday was a three-win night there, led by his “lone wolf” top selection Gandalf the Black ($9.30) in race 2. It’s all part of his wide-ranging involvement with the sport, which has extended to the next generation.

Ghislain’s wife, Nancy, also worked in racing for over 30 years, and it appears that the younger Paquets are naturally drawn to handicapping.

“My 13-year-old son Cédrick is far too allergic at the moment to take an interest in my passion,” said Ghislain. “Since he knows how to read a racing program, he seems to be interested in it a little more, with an allergy pill of course. My daughter Marika seems to be more interested in it, especially since she had bet on [an overlay] at 17-1 in Charlottetown.”