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Trot Feature - Canadian National Driving Championship

Meet the eight men still vying to represent Canada, alongside current World Champion James MacDonald, at the 2019 World Driving Championships in Sweden.

Learn what is going through their minds as they prepare for the Canadian National Driving Championships, at Grand River Raceway in Elora, Ontario, on September 26th. Compiled by Justin Fisher

TROT: You have a 1 in 8 chance to represent Canada, overseas, in a world championship - tell us your fondest memory of Canadian success on the world stage in either harness racing or something else.

Redmond Doucet: I would have to say Sidney Crosby's Golden Goal in Vancouver.

Louis-Philippe Roy: Crosby against Miller, the same as Redmond.

Stéphane Brosseau: Herve and Sylvain Filion when they won the World Driving Championship for Canada

Trevor Henry: Maybe when Murray Brethour won with Billyjojimbob in the Elitlopp, that was pretty good.

Kelly Hoerdt: Something to do with hockey for sure but probably the Henderson goal

TROT: Stéphane mentioned when Herve and Sylvain won the WDC in Australia, which leads into our next question. The winner will be joining James MacDonald in Sweden for the 2019 WDC (he automatically gets to compete as the defending champion). Did last year's WDC experience here in Canada make this event seem more important to you than it did before? Did you watch the final leg (or any of the legs) live? Did seeing James win on home soil and seeing what he went through, with the increased internet and video coverage, make it mean more be-cause now you could be going through it yourself?

Kelly Hoerdt: Definitely, that was the world stage. There's so much more media coverage, for any sport, but an event like that is putting our sport on the map and I'm absolutely pumped for when I get there [Sweden]. I'll send you all a nice postcard (all laughing). I think it's a great format that helps grow our sport.

Gilles Barrieau: I was at Red Shores for the final leg last year.

Louis-Philippe Roy: I would say watching last year, when you watch from the sidelines you always wanna be in there, and this year, all eight of us have a chance at being where James was last year.

TROT: So for some of you, is it a little more on your radar than it used to be because of last year?

Stéphane Brosseau: For sure, but like I said, I remember Herve and Sylvain Filion [winning]... you look at it when it's far away and now you are getting close to it so for sure you are excited and wanna win it. I think everyone wants to.

Louis-Philippe Roy: It might be Stéphane's last chance to do it so (laughing).

Stéphane Brosseau: I'm getting old, yeah... it might be my last chance to beat you. The only way he [Louis] can come [to Sweden] is if I win and I bring him with me (all laughing).

TROT: We know Trevor represented Canada in France, and Gilles did so in New Zealand, but have any of you ever represented Canada in any other way in the past?

Multiple: No

TROT: Trevor, with driving in France before, would that give you an advantage if you were to make it to Sweden?

Trevor Henry: Yeah for sure, you know a bit about what goes on with all the extra stuff behind the scenes, and driving over there is a lot different than here.

TROT: The NDC draw will be set up so you will get each post position once - you'll also be drafting your own horses, and will each get a first round pick, a second round pick, and so-forth, right through an eighth round pick. Do you like this format? Does it help level the playing field?

Trevor Henry: I think it's a good idea, you get a better idea of the horses you are picking.

Kelly Hoerdt: Almost like betting the races, you have a little more control of your destiny. I think it makes the whole experience even more fun. I'm not entirely sure of the entire format but it's all part of a strategy, I think it's a great idea.

Redmond Doucet: Just the hockey draft format.

TROT: And you were never any good at that Redmond.

Redmond Doucet: Nope, but better than you (laughing).

Gilles Barrieau: This seems like a very fair way to do this - fair for everyone. They didn't do it that way in 2007.

TROT: What will you guys do for that? Use TrackIT for that? Study the racelines? Watch replays?

Redmond Doucet: I got a handicapper in my back pocket, Randy Copley, so I can blame him if it doesn't work out.

Stéphane Brosseau: If Louis wasn't in it, I would ask him which one to take, but now I don't trust him at all.

Kelly Hoerdt: I'm just gonna call Jody Jamieson and ask him which ones to take because he knows everything (all laugh-ing).

TROT: Jody's name always comes up in these things somehow.

TROT: Will the fact that the races will be held at Grand River Raceway in Ontario be an advantage to the two Ontario-based drivers, or does that really matter? Have you all driven at Grand River before?

Gilles Barrieau: I don't think it gives them an advantage. The horses you end up will mean a lot - most of us have driven on half-mile tracks.

Louis-Philippe Roy: I had a bad experience there two or three weeks ago, so I dont think it's gonna help me. I'm kinda scared to go around that track again (kidding).

Kelly Hoerdt: I was watching replays and I saw that Louis had a little wreck or something.

Louis-Philippe Roy: I might forget it by the end of the September.

Kelly Hoerdt: Probably not, it's probably gonna stick with you.

Guy Gagnon: We have the chance to look at the charts… it's fair for everybody.

TROT: There are many ½ mile tracks throughout the country, but there are none in Western Canada, does that put you fellas from the west (Jamie & Kelly) at a disadvantage at all?

Kelly Hoerdt: We both, Jamie and I, grew up and started our careers on ½ mile tracks in Regina, so we've had our fair share. The 'B' tracks around Alberta, Grande Prairie, and Lethbridge, are halves. I know you've got to go around twice, that's all you really need to know.

TROT: As mentioned earlier, if you were to win the NDC, you get to travel to Sweden in 2019 for the WDC with James MacDonald. Do you all know James? Do you like him? (haha).

Redmond Doucet: He's an Islander!

Multiple: No comment (lots of laughing).

Louis-Philippe Roy: If I hear from anyone here that they don't like James, they would be the first one.

Gilles Barrieau: James is a good guy… I get along with him great.

Kelly Hoerdt: He's a good guy and a great ambassador for our sport and Canada too. You couldn't pick a better guy.

TROT: In Sweden, the races will have at least 11 horse fields could be as many as 14… have you all driven in large fields and different distances like that? What are your thoughts? Does that give the European and Downunder drivers the edge?

Trevor Henry: It makes it a lot different when you are going different distances.

Louis-Philippe Roy: I'm talking for Guy Gagnon and I, but when you are on front, if there are 15 or 20 horses [behind you] it doesn't make a difference (laughing). I'm talking mostly for Guy, of course, but he likes to be on front, maybe in the two hole some-times.

Gilles Barrieau: There were large fields in the 2007 WDC (I think 11-14 maybe). It might be an advantage for the drivers who do this on a regular basis because they have more experience, and because it's also longer distances - there's a different flow to the rac-es.

Trevor Henry It's a lot different because it's a slower pace, a lot of them race two or three wide, it's totally different.

TROT: Would you try and stay two and three wide then, for the most part, rather than be down on the rail?

Trevor Henry: You're sometimes better being third or fourth over than being on the rail. The rail isn't a good place to be. The horses know how to race that way. You are better off getting away eighth or ninth and moving with the flow. It comes with the horse too - if you have the favourite then maybe you can go wire to wire, however, a lot of it is off the pace racing because it's distance racing.

TROT: So Louis will be no good there? (All laughing).

TROT: There are only trotters in Sweden too. For the guys who don't drive trotters is that a disadvantage?

Kelly Hoerdt: I drove some when I was down in California but maybe only 20 times. I wish we had them out here.

Jamie Gray: Its been a while since I driven one, but I have.

Redmond Doucet: No, I haven't driven a lot of trotters. They don't have them in Cape Breton or Nova Scotia, like Inver-ness or Truro... well sire stakes they do, but no overnights.

TROT: As far as large fields go - thoroughbred racing has proven that large fields entice larger pools and bigger payouts to the gam-blers. What are your thoughts on larger fields, all of the time, in Canadian harness racing? Is it really that important that everyone gets a spot on the gate - even if it means smaller betting pools and therefore smaller purses? Or is it time we adapt? Racing two and three wide seems to work elsewhere - and it seemed to work here in the 2017 WDC.

Jamie Gray: There's merit to what you're saying, it depends on the size of the track, and the quality of drivers for safety reasons. The thoroughbreds don't have the bike to worry about, but the larger fields are gonna bring in more money.

Redmond Doucet: It depends on the venue, you could have 10 in a race at Charlottetown, probably but not at the bull rings I race at. It depends on the facility, but I don't think you could have more than one trailer out east [at some tracks] for safety reasons.

Louis-Philippe Roy: If you go longer distances, it gives any post a chance, so if you are a larger field and go a longer dis-tance, I think it makes it work. But just doing a mile, on a half, with a larger field, it cannot work because there are so many horses that won't have a shot.

TROT: Do you think guys would adjust, even without adding a lot of distance? If you see a race from Sweden or Australia they are two and three wide most of the way, and, as mentioned, the WDC races seemed to work here last year.

Stéphane Brosseau: On the big track I like the idea but on the half, I don't, even if it is longer distance. If the the field is bigger, then I think you have to go longer. At Mohawk you might have to go two miles with 15 horses, but I don't think one mile is enough.

Guy Gagnon: You ask me, I don't care. I just wanna drive the best one. I don't care whether there is 8 or 10 or 12, I just wanna drive the best one each race.

Trevor Henry: It would be a good idea at the big track, but on the smaller track it's tough. They could have maybe two or three trailers, but once you get towards 12 it gets crazy. On the big track if they wanted to go 1 ½ or 2 miles, with 15 horses, or however many they wanted, they could.

Gilles Barrieau: I think what we have now is good. It's tough for owners to get a return now, and this would make it harder.

Kelly Hoerdt: Whatever brings the gambling dollars to our sport, especially out west here. We need more people com-ing the the races and bigger handles to sustain our sport. If bigger fields will do that then I'm for it. We'd have to go longer distances, and obviously safety is the number one concern, but if that brings the people in, brings up the purses, and more horses, then I'm all for it.

TROT: As far as strategy for this year's event goes - any thoughts? Are any of you willing to share your secrets/plans in this forum right now?

Kelly Hoerdt: It will be like a poker game.

Redmond Doucet: Yup - poker face.

Jamie Gray: Probably just follow Trevor around, he's got the most experience.

TROT: Guy, are you gonna send them all down the road?

Guy Gagnon: Uh, I don't know, depends... I do like the front, yes, but I will check what kind of drive the horse needs. It would be best if Louis Roy just lets me go to the front though (all laughing).

Louis-Philippe Roy: Won't happen (all laughing).

Kelly Hoerdt: There's a passing lane at Grand River, right?

Multiple: Yes.

Kelly Hoerdt: Alright Guy, you can have the front (all laughing).

TROT: Tell us why YOU are going to win the 2018 NDC over these other 7 guys?

Redmond Doucet: Because I wanna go to Sweden and represent my country.

Louis-Philippe Roy: I think I've driven against all of the other drivers so I know all their styles, so I think that is what is gonna help me in September. I don't think I have to beat them, they have to beat me.

Stéphane Brosseau: This a chance of a lifetime and could be my last chance, so I'm going to try and have fun. When you are having fun, eventually you are going to do good.

Guy Gagnon: If I'm lucky I'll pick up some good drives. That's the only way you're going to win, driving against good drivers. You need some luck.

Trevor Henry: Because I am the king of the half mile (all laughing).

Kelly Hoerdt Because I'm gonna take everyone out the night before, get them full of tequila and they will be too hungover to do any good the next day.

TROT: And you'll do shots of water?

Kelly Hoerdt: Oh no, I can handle that stuff.

Gilles Barrieau: I'm just going to be better than everyone else!

Jamie Gray: Because I'm the oldest and supposed to be the wisest.

Kelly Hoerdt: Well, Jamie, you got the first part right, you are the oldest (all laughing).

TROT: Any final thoughts from anyone?

Kelly Hoerdt: I can't wait to meet all you guys… we're going to have a great time down there. It's going to be an absolute pleasure driving against the best in Canada.

Jamie Gray: Good luck to everyone!

TROT Magazine would like to thank all of the drivers for taking part in this group interview, and wish everyone the best of luck in this year's event.

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