NDC Contender: Mike Hennessy

Mike Hennessy and Naked Burner
Published: November 14, 2022 11:30 am EST

The 2022 National Driving Championship (NDC), presented by Standardbred Canada, is inching closer and the field of eight drivers who will compete for the chance to represent Canada is set. Each of the drivers were top performers in their regional event and will compete against the top drivers from across Canada on Nov. 24 at Century Mile in Edmonton, Alta. Trot Insider spoke with each of the contenders about a variety of topics leading up to the big event.  

From Olympic memories when he was younger to seeing drivers from Canada compete and win on an international stage, Mike Hennessy has envisioned representing his country. He'll have an opportunity to earn that privilege later this month.

NDC contender Mike Hennessy

*All stats as of Nov. 14, 2022.

Mike Hennessy secured the opportunity to represent Western Canada by winning the 2022 Western Regional Driving Championship at Century Downs on Sunday, June 19. He's set to appear in his first NDC, and he's doing it close to home.

The other seven competitors are as follows: Gilles Barrieau (Atlantic Canada), Marc Campbell (Atlantic Canada), Pascal Berube (Quebec / Eastern Ontario), Samuel Fillion (Quebec / Eastern Ontario), Doug McNair (Ontario), Louis-Philippe Roy (Ontario), and Dave Kelly (Western Canada).

With most of his driving experience coming on the west coast, Hennessy is looking forward to the fresh faces he'll face off against at Alberta's Century Mile in less than two weeks.

"It's going to be cool to drive against a bunch of guys that I don't think I’ve driven against before," said Hennessy. "I maybe drove against Marc Campbell out on the coast one time, and Doug McNair only a few times, but not a lot. So it'll be cool to drive against those guys. I'm sure some of them will be a bit of a wild card for me not really knowing what they're like to drive against."

Of those wild cards, Hennessy told Trot Insider that he's eager to compete against O'Brien Award winners Gilles Barrieau and Louis-Philippe Roy.

"He's been a legend forever now," said Hennessy, referring to 2007 NDC winner Barrieau. "It'd be cool to compete against him. And Louis, I haven't raced against him yet since he's come onto the scene and it'll be cool to be on the oval with him. It looks like he can create a ton of speed in horses and hopefully we see some of that on that day."

What Hennessy also expects to see during the NDC is a different driving style than what he's used to over the Edmonton-area mile oval. Horses that he's very familiar with might be driven differently once a new pilot gets above the wheels.

Mike Hennessy feted for his 1,000th career driving victory

"The races are probably not going to set up the way they normally do. So what you know about each horse might not always work out because the race is set up so differently. Even when we do it with the guys from here, the racing's a lot different than it is normally, right? Guys are out there trying a little harder because they want to get there."

There is Europe in 2023. There is representing Canada in the World Driving Championship, and it's been a goal of Hennessy's since he saw a Canadian reach that pinnacle more than 20 years ago.

"The opportunity to represent your country is not something you always get. It has been something I've thought about ever since [1999 World Driving Champion] Sylvain Filion did it," admitted Hennessy. "It would be an incredible feeling and it's got to be as good as winning some of the top stakes races. I think it would probably even be a little better than that."

Once the NDC draw is complete and the horses are selected, Hennessy will prepare for the driving competition the same way he did for the Regionals earlier this year.

"I do believe in routine," the driver noted. "It helps to get in the right headspace and I usually always shine my boots and stuff like that. Just something a little simple, like a hockey player sitting in the stands, taping a stick or whatever. Just something to kind of clear your head and get yourself prepared.

"The night before, I might roll through the program and kind of visualize what I’m thinking I want to do with each race. Then just figure out what my plan is and hopefully be able to stick to it, because that worked in Calgary."

Fans of harness racing will likely see a lot of Hennessy on Friday (Nov. 18) as the Standardbreds return to Century Mile for the first time in nine months. Hennessy will look to start a winning routine in advance of his chance to represent Canada.

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