It's been over a decade since driver Sylvain Filion won his first and only Breeders Crown championship. On Saturday night at Woodbine, he'll have half a dozen chances to make a return trip to the winner's circle.
"Eleven years ago, I won a Breeders Crown with my Dad's horse, Goliath Bayama, which was pretty unexpected at the time, but it was a great thrill, recalled Filion of the 10-1 upset at the Meadowlands in 2001. "I kind of miss that. After 11 years, I think I'm overdue. That would be pretty special to win another one.
With no eliminations required for the $331,500 Breeders Crown Mare Pace, the five-year-old Rebeka Bayama, a homebred daughter of Leader Bayama-Joyce Bayama, advanced directly to the final. In her Fillies & Mares Open prep on October 19 at Woodbine, the 23-time winner equalled the track record with an impressive 1:48.4 score, which was just one-fifth of a second shy of her lifetime mark.
"Rebeka Bayama drew the nine-hole for the final, but she raced really, really well here (on October 19), said Filion of the Stephane Larocque trainee, with $651,198 in lifetime earnings. "It would be very special to win with her. I think she is in top form and the way she raced, she should be the one to beat in there.
But it was a difficult decision for Filion as to who he would drive in the $555,000 Three-year-old Colt Trot. Filion finished second with the Dustin Jones pupil, Prestidigitator, in the first Colt Trot elimination and then guided the Luc Blais-trained Intimidate to victory in the second elimination.
"That is probably one of the toughest decisions I had to make in my driving career, he said. "I took a couple nights to think about it. I finally made my decision (on Monday to drive Prestidigitator). I am pretty confident I made the right call. Luc is a real good friend of mine. He is like a brother to me. When I told him my decision, he was good with it.
"The owner (of Prestidigitator) Serge Godin has been investing a lot of money over the past 10 years, he added. "He has been very good to me, very loyal. He is expecting to buy a lot of colts again this year. He gave me the opportunity to drive in the Hambletonian for the first time in my career. I respect that.
Prestidigitator, a son of Hall of Fame sire Kadabra, led his Ontario Sires Stakes division in points and earnings, stamping his ticket to the Super Finals on November 10 at the Toronto oval. The nine-time career winner has $676,395 in lifetime earnings.
Wheeling N Dealin is Jones' and Godin's second 2012 Crown starter, with Filion at the helm. The son of Cantab Hall-Quick Credit has a perfect eight-for-eight record in his debut season with a $387,924 bankroll. He will contest the $600,000 Two-year-old Colt Trot.
"Wheeling N Dealin has been super so far this year, Filion said. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. He is unbeaten. If we get the right trip, I think we have a real good shot.
Filion will also drive Antsy Dancey in the $600,000 Two-year-old Filly Trot for trainer Chris Beaver, Fool Me Once in the $600,000 Two-year-old Colt Pace for conditioner Mark Austin and Panther Hanover in the $555,000 Three-year-old Colt Pace for trainer James 'Friday' Dean.
Adding a Crown triumph would be the icing on the cake to what has already proven to be a career year.
As of October 24, Filion has had 332 trips to the winner's circle in 2012, with over $6.6 million in purse earnings. But on the Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) circuit, Filion is battling with Jody Jamieson and Scott Zeron for top spot in the driver standings.
"I didn't really expect in the middle of the season to be that close to being a top dash winner, but the further we went I kept noticing that I might have a shot, said the reinsman, who is currently tied for second with Zeron with 225 victories and one win shy of Jamieson, as of October 22. "I've been driving a lot of power lately so that helps a lot. I think my chances are good. I'm driving really good horses and I'm working with really good trainers.
"I was going day by day, he offered. "If you would have told me that I would've been in the situation I am right now, I would have probably told you that you were crazy. It's been pretty much a dream year so far. I just hope it keeps on going.
First race post time for Saturday's Breeders Crown card is 6:30 p.m. (WEG)