Ghislain Paquet: Translating picks into a near-sweep at Woodbine Mohawk Park

by Melissa Keith

One regular Woodbine Mohawk Park (WMP) handicapper had a not-so-regular night at the office on Monday (June 26). Ghislain Paquet gave out nine straight winners on a 10-race card, at a track where favorites are currently winning at a 45 per cent rate for the meet (as of July 5), and have missed the board entirely in 25 per cent of races.

Paquet is one of the public handicappers whose picks appear on every WMP simulcast.

“I started with Mohawk a little over a year ago when TV show producer Luke Van Belkom approached me following the huge success of my ‘Passion Courses’ Facebook page,” Paquet said. “We already knew each other since he sometimes called on my services to translate the ‘Mic’D’Up’ [in-race driver commentary] videos made in French.”

Paquet said he welcomed the opportunity to offer selections for Canada’s biggest track.

“I started as an announcer in Quebec in 1992, and a few years later, at the end of the ’90s, I became an announcer and analyst in both Quebec and Trois-Rivières,” he said. “I remember at that time watching Woodbine races a lot, with the one and only announcer Frank Salive, one of my early mic idols. Do you know who played the role of occasional analyst at that time? None other than [Hall of Fame driver/current WMP racing analyst] Randy Waples. Really!”

Assessing his nine-win night, Paquet was willing to share some methodology. He said he doesn’t shy away from picking horses destined to be favorites.

“My choices are mine,” Paquet said. “I can’t control whether my picks are bettors’ favorites or not. I only look very little at the morning [line] odds, so as not to be influenced in my selections, precisely to keep my personal opinion intact. When I make my choices, I don’t wonder if [the horse] will be the bettors’ favorite or not. I chose him because I believe he is the horse to beat in this race, that’s all.

“It doesn’t matter what the final [odds are]. It may happen that I choose a 5-1 or 6-1 [horse], and after that the same horse becomes the favorite at the start. But, of course, I can’t control that. First of all, I aim for winners because the primary goal of a handicapper is to try to find who will win the race. This is my personal opinion here. I love directing our fans to the best information possible. This is my primary mission as an analyst/handicapper.”

June 23, his night began with $5.70 winner New Rules (driven by Austin Sorrie for trainer Marcel Barrieau), in an Ontario Sires Stakes Grassroots leg for 3-year-old male trotters. In the second race, 2-year-old filly trotter Tactical Strike (driver James MacDonald/trainer Desiree Jones) was a winning favorite, returning $3.20 as Paquet’s pick.

Paquet said he keeps his picks timely.

“I start to analyze my program the day before only… Several factors are to be monitored and it is important for me to give the best possible information,” he said.

His network of connections cultivated through Passion Courses often provides him with insights on Mohawk.

In race 3 on June 23, favorite Resolve To Win (driver Scott Young/trainer Matt Bax) paid $3.60 to win. Paquet’s run continued into a race 4 Pop-Up Series leg, with Stop The Shootin (driver Louis-Phillipe Roy/trainer Ted MacDonnell) returning $2.70 as winning fave. Four top-choice selections; four different trainers and drivers; all winners.

“I’ve always loved doing puzzles and for me analyzing a Mohawk program is always a nice puzzle to solve,” said Paquet, adding that the Campbellville, ON track is known to be tough. “Mohawk is complicated to analyze [because] the fields [are] so well balanced. The top drivers are extremely talented; same thing with the trainers. Class changes: horses very rarely win several consecutive races.”

In race 5, favorite Darbyshire captured his OSS Grassroots division for James MacDonald and trainer Matt Bax. The $2.10 winner wasn’t a unanimous choice among the WMP handicappers, but he was Paquet’s. In race 6, Style For A Mile (driver Doug McNair/trainer Richard Moreau) was a $3.50 winning fave, keeping the streak alive.

Paquet said trying to beat the favorite isn’t always a profitable approach. One variable matters more than the rest, in his assessment.

“The first thing I look at when analyzing my race is definitely the class,” he said. “Who are in their class, who drops in class, and who goes up in class. I would say that the basis of your analysis is there.”

The Passion Courses founder said he’s been sharpening his skills from an early age, in spite of his father taking a different approach to wagering.

“It was my father Robert [now deceased] who gave me this great passion for horse racing,” he said. “Dad was a very simple bettor: $20 win bet, $20 win-place, occasional small trifecta. Sometimes a quinella… My father was a high-pressure welder, a very hard worker and did not want to break his head analyzing a racing program. He watched the [post] parade; he glanced at the board and went to bet.”

Ghislain said he taught himself how to interpret a program and tends to prefer playing triactors. Also, unlike his father, he has never been shy when it comes to discussing how he makes his picks.

“I have been handicapping and analyzing horse racing since I was very young, sitting in the living room with my dad, just for fun,” he said. “I have always been attracted by this task of analyzing a race and that at the end of the analysis, you must try to explain why you chose this horse to win the race.”

The horse he chose in WMP race 7 on June 23 was OSS Grassroots winner Lite The Candles (driver Bob McClure/trainer Shawn Steacy), who paid $3.10 to win. Another popular favorite prevailed in race 8, as Tyler Jones guided Rockin N Talkin ($2.90) to a Pop-Up Series victory for trainer Herbert Holland.

Ghislain said it was only at race 7 that he realized he stood a chance to sweep the card, although that isn’t his focus: “How many winners can I have in one evening? I never ask myself this question.” But late in the Friday night card, the question was being asked by Mohawk players following his selections.

“I had a lot of confidence in my choices in races 8 and 9,” he said. “I put the maximum energy into my analyses in order to direct our fans as well as possible, without wondering whether or not I will have a good evening. We always hope so.”

The Hazelton ($3) rewarded his confidence with a win for driver Bob McClure and trainer Mark Etsell in the fourth OSS Grassroots event for 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings.

“For the 10th, my confidence was not very high [due to post position]. I was hoping for another J-Mac magic trick, which unfortunately didn’t turn out,” Ghislain said. Ironically, it was the #9 horse who disrupted his nine-race win streak, in race 10, won by the #10: In The Mood finished seventh as 3-2 beaten fave, as Arizona pulled off the 18-1 upset for driver Tyler Borth/trainer Mike Timpano.

Although his best result at Mohawk, Ghislain said he had previously swept two cards elsewhere.

“I already had a perfect program in Quebec, and also in Trois-Rivières a few years ago.”

Favorites dominated his nine-win night, but he said he liked finding overlays.

“One of my favorites: Gaines Hanover in his second career win, in the Champlain at 7-1. He was my Play Of The Night, ‘Special Longshot’.”

He told HRU he takes great pride in representing, “the many horsepeople from Quebec who work in Ontario, [who] finally have one of their own among the experts at Mohawk.” Sometimes they share gems in interviews, like the time Sara Baillargeon told him Cassius Hanover “should be stronger” after illness. On June 15 at Mohawk, the 23-1 shot finished second to 4-1 Fox Valley Ontario in Paquet’s winning triactor ($510.80) and superfecta ($2,140.90) boxes.

Inside information is not the foundation of the bilingual racing analyst’s work, however. He said the most valuable sources defy translation.

“They are still horses and unfortunately they do not speak,” he said.