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SC Rewind: Hervé Has Arrived

Published: February 1, 2020 9:59 am ET

Last Comment: February 7, 2020 10:16 am ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

This week's Rewind is a special edition; all about the life and times of the great Hervé Arthur Filion. The timing is intended to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the birthday of this late harness racing icon who was born on February 1, 1940. This piece touches down on several eras, milestones and interesting facts about this most amazing man. It also includes a number of photos taken down through the years; some not often shown.

Eighty years ago today was Thursday, February 1, 1940. A special delivery arrived that day at the farm home of Edmond and Alida Filion near Angers, Quebec; a very special delivery indeed. On that day the Filion family increased by one as they added their sixth child (one infant had died shortly after birth) to their growing brood. They named him Hervé Arthur. At the time of the birth Edmond his father was working in Ottawa, anticipating a call to rush home at any time. Communications were not quite as efficient as they are today plus he was delayed by a snow storm. Reportedly by the time he returned home Hervé had recently arrived. Perhaps in a way he had already won his first race.

The proud father soon lifted the newborn up in his arms and he "insisted that the baby smiled at him" according to a story often told by Mrs. Filion. She told him it wasn't possible. Whether or not that tale was true, the elder Mr. Filion always felt that his son never lost the mischievous smile that he detected that day. By 1948 Mrs. Filion had given birth to an even dozen children, including seven boys in a row which started with the birth of today's subject.


(Photo courtesy of sportswriter Andre Trudelle)

The Filion family was close-knit as most were in that day and age with the majority of activities taking place either at home, their school or local Church. In later years brother Henri recounted "When we were in school we used to race home to see who could get there first. Hervé usually won at that too!" A lot of kids went to play hockey after school but Hervé, a fifth grade dropout, said "I always ran back to the farm to work around horses in the stable." Very early in life Hervé knew that his life would be all about horses. At an early age he began to dream of a life driving harness horses and often said that he never envisioned being in a race that he did not win.

Eventually all of the seven Filion boys became accomplished drivers and Hervé summed it up by saying "It was either that or farming and how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they've seen parimutuels?" He learned the game quickly and won his first pari-mutuel race at the age of 13. The payoff was a whopping $95.00 and just one winning ticket was sold. Legend has it that the one lucky bettor found Hervé and gave him a $5 Tip.


Clippings from a 1955 issue of The Ottawa Gazette show an early picture of a young 15-year-old Hervé who was already a top driver at Connaught Park.

By the age of just 15 in 1955, Hervé was already among the leading drivers at Connaught Park in Hull, Que., not far from his home. He was not just winning races, he was dominating in the weekly Invitationals held on Sundays with the veteran pacer Professor Mac owned by his older brother Gilles. His career as a sulky sitter had started a couple of years prior to this at the age of 13 with a horse called Guy Grattan. When he first started out driving some old often told tales said that he couldn't reach the sulky stirrups but he could still win races.

As successful as he was at almost everything he ever tried Hervé admitted there was one area that he fell short in and that was his attempt to be humble. In the mid 1970's when he and his younger brother Henri were "ruling the roost" at Roosevelt Raceway, Hervé confessed to a New York sportswriter, "When you're as good as I am it's pretty hard to be humble." By 1971 Hervé was at the top of his game and with it came a newfound affluence. That year he and his brothers presented their father with a Cadillac Fleetwood and their mother with a diamond ring. About his father he said "my father was a worker, and real generous with all of his family. We didn't have much but he never left us broke. He's a real good man, but of course that runs in the family. We're all nice guys!"

Hervé often spoke of his admiration for the famed horseman Keith Waples, a man he idolized from a very young age. He recounted that he studied his every move and wanted to be as much like him as he could possibly be. He loved the way Keith could "skip" his sulky sideways and eventually learned the technique. He longed for the day when he too could jump from one sulky to another, driving in virtually every race. His "love" of Keith lasted through the ages.

Hervé had many undefinable qualities as a horseman; he just always knew what to do and when to do it. His younger brother Henri once said that Hervé could sit behind a horse for a very short time and quickly assess what it was all about. While he was at home wherever he drove, he was forever the "master" of the half-mile track. Perhaps due to his early years of driving on the "twice arounds", he was always adept at getting the most out of a horse on this sized track. It may never have been in evidence any plainer than in the 1971 Jug when he upset Albatross at Delaware with Nansemond and sent Stanley Dancer into a post-race rage in the paddock.

Despite his tremendous accomplishments and the mountain of records he set (and often later broke himself) Hervé summed up his most important asset while talking to a harness writer very late in his career during a 2012 interview. Of the many things that contributed to his long reign at the top perhaps the most important factor was luck. "You have to be lucky in anything you do in life," said Filion. "The right place at the right time and in the right situation. I was very lucky all my life. Don't hold it against me; I was born that way!" he added with a laugh.

After starting his career in Canada Hervé before long learned that "The Land of Opportunity" was across the border in the U.S. He soon began to appear at a number of Eastern U.S. tracks and eventually made his way to the undisputed Capital of Harness Racing and at that time it was Roosevelt Raceway in Long Island, N.Y. He began to race as often as he could, competing at one track in the afternoon and another at night. The wins and the money soon began to pile up. In 1968 he won his first of 16 National dash winning championships. In 1971 at the tender age of 31 he passed the famed Billy Haughton as the winningest driver in the sport. It was a title he would hold for 41 years.

In later years Hervé's health began to fail. Years of rigorous travel and a hectic daily schedule combined with heavy smoking took its toll. At one time he travelled over 250,000 miles in a year pursuing his dream as far away as Australia and New Zealand. For the last few years of his life Hervé carried an oxygen tank. In 2012 he officially retired from racing and a special evening was held in his honour at Rideau Carleton Raceway, not all that far from his birthplace across the Ottawa River. In true fashion he won his last drive giving him a total of 15,183 wins over his lifetime.

He thrilled many millions as he travelled, virtually wherever he was asked. He talked to everyone and served as one of the best ambassadors the sport will ever have. He said that he felt it was his duty to give back to the sport that had given him so much. He was so rushed that on many occasions he was late in arriving for a special engagement. Instead of being fined, the racing officials delayed the start to accommodate the man often called Hurry'n Hervé. Forever a showman no stage was too large and no lights were too bright for him.

On June 22, 2017 Hervé passed to his eternal reward. His 77 years spent here on earth were filled with adventure and excitement. He loved what he was doing and seemingly never grew tired of his chosen profession. He won almost every honour possible and was most often welcomed with open arms wherever he went but also endured at times much criticism. He was often "in hot water" with the judges especially early in his career. He was frequently under the watchful eyes of everyone around him; trying to see if he was playing by the rules, always wondering how he could win so many races.

Hervé's final resting place was back in his native Quebec at the Church and cemetery near his home at Angers. His service was conducted in both French and English and members of his family all wearing their racing silks served as pallbearers.

Billy Haughton once said: “There are a lot of good harness drivers, a few great ones...and then there is Filion.”

FILION PHOTO ALBUM

In the photo above the Filions are shown at a special day planned for them at Foxboro Raceway in May 1983. On this day six of the seven driving brothers (Gilles was retired by then) along with a nephew put on quite a show. The Filion parents are in the centre along with Hervé accepting the trophy.

The entire Filion family, especially Hervé, were never too publicity shy nor did they fear being photographed. They usually accepted invitations to participate in special events. On New Year's Day 1975, the brothers gathered at the track where they all got their start, Connaught Park. This event was covered in an earlier Rewind. Because of the numbers it was usually difficult if not impossible to appear as an entire family.


Hervé and his young family in 1973. From left Tammy-Lynn, Hervé, Hervé Jr., Barbara Ayn and wife Barbara Ann (Photo courtesy of sportswriter Andre Trudelle)


In his glory winning at Roosevelt by defeating the best horses and drivers of the time in front of huge crowds. This was truly the heyday of harness racing.


In 1969 Hervé paid a visit to Toronto's Greenwood Raceway and celebrated his 29 th birthday shown here with Bill Galvin of the Ontario Jockey Club Publicity office.


Left: Front cover of a Roosevelt Program; Right: Hervé in his later years


Quote For The Week: A longtime friend of mine who worked at my father's sawmill for many years was quite philosophic when talking about the "Good Old Days." He said "The best part of the good old days is that they're not here anymore." Thank you Cecil.

Who Is It?

Can you put a correct name on each of these fellows?

February 7, 2020 - 10:16 amThis week's picture featured

This week's picture featured three well known horsemen standing together at Roosevelt Raceway and correctly identified by Mr.Howard Gluck as from left to right Maurice Pusey, Herve Filion and Rejean Daigneault. Thanks for the comments and picture guesses. 

February 2, 2020 - 9:18 pmThere is absolutely no other

Gord Brown SAID...

There is absolutely no other family like the Filions in the world! I was very fortunate to be one of the last 6 drivers to line up with Herve on a very special night set up by Johnny Mac. A very special hello to my good friend Buck, who it was an honour to know all these years. Herve was class all the way. The Filion legacy will live forever.

February 1, 2020 - 8:36 pmMaurice Pusey, Herve and

Howard Gluck SAID...

Maurice Pusey, Herve and Rejean Daigneault

February 1, 2020 - 4:25 pmI think the year was 1974 I

Garth Gordon SAID...

I think the year was 1974 I claimed a horse called Johnny Adonis for $5500. I remember Ron Waples saying to me 'why would you claim that horse he is a bad actor?' Anyway I put him in to race in a $6000 claimer and drove him myself. He would spin around and sometimes wouldn’t go to the gate right away finally after some coaxing I got him to the gate and got him out of there but didn’t pick up a check. So the next week I have him in to go in a $6000 claimer. Ben Wallace was working for me at the time said he would drive him. This was at Greenwood Raceway. As the gate was picking up the horses Ben was bringing him up to the gate he turned and went out the gate where the horses would come onto the track causing a recall. We got him back on the track and this time kept him close to the rail then moved him in to position and he decided to race but didn’t pick up a check. The next week on Saturday afternoon in the winter time they were having a driver challenge. They had four drivers from Greenwood competing against four drivers from Roosevelt Raceway. They phoned me from the race office and said we only have 7 horses for the $6000 claimer and we are using that race for the driver challenge and wanted to know if I would let them use Johnny Adonis. I said I wouldn’t ask anybody to drive him let alone a top driver. Besides I am going to put him in a $4000 claimer and get rid of him. So after a little coaxing I said ok go ahead and put him in. So when the entries come out Herve is down to drive him. So I told Herve before the race watch this guy he will spin around on you and he will run out the gate. Herve says ok I will be careful. So as the horses are going around getting ready to race Herve has both feet out of the stirrups both lines in one hand talking to the driver beside him Johnny is on his best behaviour. The starter calls the horses Herve puts Johnny’s nose right in the gate leaves out of there goes to the front and wins by six lengths. Herve said to me after the race he is a nice little horse he won easy. Maybe Billy Haughton was right. I went to Herve’s funeral and watched them lay my idol to rest.

February 1, 2020 - 11:16 amJacques Larente, Herve Filion

Jacques Larente, Herve Filion and Rejean Boily

When I was 15, I was riding a scooter in the stable area at Richelieu Park. Herve asked me to let him drive. I asked him, have you ever did. He said no but show me.
I sat behind him and and it took only 50 ft and we right in the slurry pit and down on our ass.


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