James MacDonald is Canada’s 2024 National Driving Champion

by Melissa Keith

Friday (July 5), Woodbine Mohawk Park’s leading reinsman proved he’s a force to be reckoned with at any track, anywhere.

James MacDonald prevailed in Canada’s 2024 National Driving Championship at Hippodrome 3R in Trois-Rivières, QC, winning the tournament with a total of 66 points. He had actually finished second to fellow Mohawk regular Tyler Borth in the 2024 Ontario Regional Driving Championship, which took place on April 23 at The Raceway at Western Fair, in London, ON. Both qualified for the NDC.

The day after the championship victory, Canada’s two-time reigning Keith Waples Driver of the Year told HRU that memories of winning the 2017 World Driving Championship in his home country raised his confidence going into the 2024 NDC.

“The 2017 competition was on tracks all over Canada,” MacDonald said. “I’ve raced at 3R a few times and always had luck there, so I was hoping for more of the same going in.”

The 2024 NDC spanned races 2 through 9 last Friday at Hippodrome 3R. MacDonald overcame bad luck in his first drive, closing wide from last to finish second despite an early break by his horse, 3-1 shot Classic Jim. Tyler Borth wired with 4-5 favorite Mach Play to win the opening leg of the tournament.

In race 3, MacDonald took a similar front-end strategy with winning 1-9 favorite Rec Time, who easily held off 35-1 runner-up Whitemountaincammy and driver Robert Shepherd.

Borth got his second win in race 4, grinding first-over with 6-5 favorite Delgado to sting 7-5 leader Granite Beach (driven by Shepherd) in the stretch.

MacDonald was back in the winner’s circle after race 5, following a front-end victory by 3-5 favorite Bonfire Bash, who quickly circled his stablemate Cleveland Moneyka, driven by Quebec-Eastern Ontario Regional Driving Championship winner Stephane Brosseau. Bonfire Bash held off late moves by pocket-sitting Cleveland Moneyka  and La Bromontoise, who ran out of racetrack in a strong closing effort for Borth.

Western Canadian Driving Champion Phil Giesbrecht set the pace in race 6, driving 6-1 shot Odds On Carmel. MacDonald sent 1-5 fave American Zestar after the leader at the half, clearing her in the stretch for his third win of the tournament.

In race 7, Mike Hennessy and 2-1 filly Mybitcoin swept past 6-5 favorite Jimbelina, driven by Giesbrecht, for an Alberta exactor. Race 8 saw Stephane Brosseau get his first win of the NDC, driving 4-5 favorite Last Try to a gate-to-wire victory over next-best Drinklikehenry, with Hennessy in the sulky. MacDonald and Borth failed to hit the board in either race.

The race 9 finale was won by Atlantic Regional Driving Champion Redmond Doucet, Jr., guiding 3-1 Albert Alpha to a narrow, off-the-pace win over 9-5 favorite Cl Big Beach and driver Robert Shepherd.

In the final tally, MacDonald came out on top, with 66 total points. Runner-up Borth was tied for points with Shepherd (53 points each), but finished second overall based on his two wins. Brosseau finished fourth, with 50 points.

Although it might be expected that Mohawk’s leading driver, a three-time Canadian Driver of the Year (2021, 2022, 2023), would be an easy winner in the NDC, MacDonald said the heightened level of competition at the NDC can’t even be compared with driving in major stakes at his home track.

“It’s completely different in every way,” he said. “Strategy is much different knowing how hungry every driver is for every single point.”

MacDonald told HRU he went to Hippodrome 3R without any preconceptions about who would be his main rivals for the NDC title.

“I had no expectations of who would be the biggest challenge,” he said. “I just tried to do my own thing and stay focused. It’s not shocking to see Tyler [Borth] doing so well, though. He’s a fabulous driver.”

MacDonald will now represent Canada at the 2025 World Driving Championships in New Zealand.

Doug McNair withdrew from defending his title in the 2024 NDC. The 2022 National Driving Champion represented Canada at the 2023 World Driving Championship in The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, finishing second overall to The Netherlands’ Rick Ebbinge last August, as reported here in HRU.

“I couldn’t go to New Zealand next winter,” McNair said Saturday (July 6). “So, I didn’t think it was worth going to Quebec when I knew I couldn’t go to the finals anyways. Something has come up for next winter.”

Asked whether driving regularly at Mohawk gave him an edge at the NDC, MacDonald said it wasn’t a clear-cut advantage.

“I think any and all experience is a big help,” MacDonald said. “It’s always very different racing in competitions like this. Nothing can really prepare you for competitions like this. Every one is different; you have to see how the day goes.”