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Shepherd On Track For Ontario Regional

Published: May 6, 2018 10:34 am ET

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Having to scratch out of any competition is not something any athlete is crazy about but sometimes because of injury or health concerns, and for the best interest of others involved, it’s absolutely necessary.

Such was the case for Robert Shepherd in the 2016 Ontario Regional Driving Championship.

Less than 24 hours before the start of the nine race competition kicked off, Shepherd was forced to scratch due to some health concerns that prevented him from getting the Doctor’s approval required for the renewal of his harness racing driver’s license, following a physical exam he didn’t pass.

“I had high blood pressure which was due to a leaky valve in my heart,” Shepherd explained. He was off for a few weeks, (June 13 – July 1) and since that time manages his condition with prescription medication.

Fast forward to 2018 and Shepherd is one of nine of the leading drivers in Ontario who was extended an invitation to the Ontario Regional Driving Championship (ORDC) scheduled for May 16 at The Raceway at Western Fair District.

Today, the Prince Edward Island native is one of the province’s busiest catch drivers as he and his partner Isabelle Darveau also have 19 horses in training at Golden Horseshoe Lanes Training Centre.

Robert Shepherd guides Wildwild Men to victory

The horse racing gene was passed along to him by his father, who worked a full-time day job outside of the industry and then took care of the horses in the morning and evenings.

Shepherd has come a long way since his first driving win in 1999 when he had a total of six drives. That same year, he and his buddy Mark Bradley moved to Florida for eight months to work. “We were grooms and assistant trainers and we had about 15 horses that we trained. It was a great experience.”

For the next two years Shepherd would ply his trade in PEI and then he moved to Ontario and worked for Kevin McMaster. In 2002, he made the move to Alberta, and worked for Bill Landers and Keith Clark, and competed at Northlands and Stampede Park. In 2004, he became the youngest driver to win the Nat Christie Memorial at Stampede Park in Calgary, as he reined The Bruster to victory.

In 2006 he relocated to Ontario and he’s been here ever since. Along with driving horses that he and Isabel train, he is a regular driver for his brother, Patrick’s stable.

Several years ago, Robert was unfortunately part of two serious racing accidents. He’s been fortunate enough to make full recoveries and bounce back physically and mentally from both.

Shepherd is off to a great start this year with 144 wins, 134 seconds and 88 thirds while driving horses to $812,273 in purse earnings. He’s had several race nights where he’s driven multiple winners, including February 6 when he posted a half-dozen victories at Flamboro Downs.

The soft-spoken horseman tries to fly under the radar but that can be difficult when you are posting multiple victories on race cards. “I try to show up every night and do the best I can, and so much depends on the horses that you’re driving and I’ve been lucky enough to get some good drives from good trainers.”

Shepherd drives predominantly at half-mile tracks and when asked about whether that will give him an advantage in the Ontario Regional at Western Fair, he sounds a bit doubtful, “Doug (McNair) started out at Western Fair and Louis (Philippe-Roy) at Hippodrome 3R; all of the guys can drive well on any sized track. The only difference is that I may know some of the horses better.”

Knowing the horses better could be a big factor on May 16 for Shepherd when he lines up behind the gate in eight races for the Ontario Regional along with Alfie Carroll, Jonathan Drury, J Harris, Trevor Henry, Jody Jamieson, Bob McClure, Doug McNair, and Louis-Philippe Roy.

The nine drivers will participate in eight of the nine competition races. Each race will have a field of eight and each driver will compete in eight races, drive from every post position, and sit out for one race.

Drivers will receive points based on their finishing position and the top two drivers from the nine-race competition will join six other drivers at the 2018 National Driving Championship (NDC) at Grand River Raceway.

The winner of the 2018 NDC will have the opportunity to represent Canada in the WDC, and join 2017 World Driving Champion, James MacDonald, in the 2019 WDC in Sweden.

Here are the locations and dates for the four regional events (in chronological order):

Ontario Regional (Includes drivers from Ontario)
The Raceway at Western Fair District -- Wednesday, May 16

Western Regional (Includes drivers from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba)
Century Downs -- Saturday, June 23

Atlantic Regional (Includes drivers from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island)
Truro Raceway -- Friday, June 29

Quebec / Eastern Ontario Regional (Includes drivers that compete regularly at Kawartha Downs and Rideau Carleton Raceway in addition to Hippodrome 3R)
Kawartha Downs -- Saturday, June 30

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