One of the highlights of Sylvain Filion's 2021 O'Brien Award-nominated season was his Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final win with Bob Loblaw. Filion will aim for a repeat in that division this year thanks to a special horse with a very personal connection.
Filion is one of two finalists — along with James MacDonald — for the 2021 Keith Waples Driver of the Year Award, one of the 18 categories that comprise the 2021 O'Brien Awards. Winners will be announced at the 2021 Virtual O’Brien Awards Gala on Sunday, February 6, 2022, which will be video streamed on standardbredcanada.ca. Filion will be tuning in that Sunday night but he won't be holding his breath on hearing his name called as the winner.
"I’m always honoured to be nominated for an O'Brien," Filion told Trot Insider. But, at the same time, I know that James has got the title wrapped and wrapped up. He's had such a tremendous year....And, you know, I tip my hat to James. He's had one heck of a year. He shows up every night and he's a worker, and one hell of a driver. Well deserved.
"I'm very pleased with the year I had," the Milton, Ont. resident continued. "I was very fortunate to drive horses for the big barns like Ben Baillargeon, Richard Moreau. It’s all about power; you need power to win races. People don't realize how tough it is to win races on a regular basis at Mohawk. It's a very tight group of drivers that are very skilled, so there are no easy wins."
Filion just makes it look easy. The four-time Driver of the Year picked up 233 wins — third best in Canada — and guided horses to earnings in excess of nearly $5.4 million in 2021. That total placed Filion as the second leading money earning driver in Canada and he also finished second in the Ontario Sires Stakes among drivers.
"I feel very honoured being nominated, and at the same time I feel that there's a bunch of guys that could have been nominated this year. So it's been a pretty good year for me."
The highlight of that good year was the aforementioned OSS Super Final win, a thrilling come-from-behind score with rookie pacing colt Bob Loblaw, punctuated by a perfectly-captured photo and tremendous race call.
"Around the last turn, he put in a few steps. And I wasn't sure if he was going to stay pacing or run. So when we hit the stretch, I felt that he had lots of pace left. I didn’t know if I was going to run out of track or what. But I would say like halfway down the lane, I thought I had a good shot at it. So I kept driving at him and kept him busy so he kept pacing. Just before the wire, I thought ‘My God, if I win this, I want to look up at Ken.’ That was a perfect time.
"That was pretty emotional, I would say. I was very, very happy for Ken [trainer and Woodbine Mohawk Park announcer Ken Middleton] and that was just great...probably the greatest race call ever."
Despite being fined 20 percent of his earnings from that race and receiving a three-day suspension for "using more than acceptable wrist action" in the stretch, Filion has no regrets. "It was worth it."
One more October 2021 investment that Filion hopes provides a rewarding return is a yearling by the name of Bet The Rock currently under the tutelage of Sylvain's Hall of Fame father, Yves Filion.
"This year I bought a colt in London. Because that was the first year, this year, that my dad had none to break in like, I would say, 50 years. So I talked to my wife and I said 'Maybe we should buy a colt so he’d have a colt to break this year.' So we bought one, and he decided to buy one so they could go together....He still loves what he's doing."
Filion would love to be able to celebrate the O'Briens in person, but like many he understands an in-person gala just isn't in the cards for this year. "I miss being at the live gala. You know, dress up and have fun, a few drinks and just relax and enjoy the night. But what can we do? We’ve got to go with what we have, and I will be there virtually Sunday."