Yannick Gingras’ focus is on winning races, not awards, but when you win races like he did in 2017 it’s no surprise when recognition follows.
Gingras drove four horses last year that captured Dan Patch Award divisional honors, including the three horses ranked at the top of the season’s final Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown poll: No. 1 Hannelore Hanover, No. 2 Ariana G, and No. 3 Manchego. The remaining Dan Patch winner, Youaremycandygirl, was ranked seventh.
He led the sport in purses for the fourth consecutive year, with $12.9 million, and topped the driver standings on the Grand Circuit. His Grand Circuit victories included four Breeders Crown finals, the Hambletonian Oaks (for a record-extending fourth consecutive year), the Maple Leaf Trot, and Little Brown Jug.
All totaled, Gingras won 33 races worth at least $100,000 last season and did it with 16 different horses. And when it was all said and done, Gingras received his second Driver of the Year Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association. His previous honor came in 2014.
"It’s always nice, there’s no doubt," Gingras said about the award. "Going into the year, it’s not what I’m looking to get. I’m trying to win the big races and stay healthy. But it’s nice recognition. It means you had a good year and the horses had a good year.
"You go on the track and try to do your job," he added. "I was lucky this year that the horses I drove stayed healthy. That’s the main thing."
There were numerous memorable moments for Gingras last year. In addition to winning his fourth Hambletonian Oaks, with Ariana G, he guided Hannelore Hanover to the fastest mile by a female trotter in history, 1:49.2 at Lexington’s Red Mile, and piloted Youaremycandygirl to the fastest mile ever by a 2-year-old female pacer, 1:50, also at the Red Mile.
Ariana G, Hannelore Hanover, Youaremycandygirl, and Manchego all won their respective Breeders Crown finals, with Manchego becoming the first undefeated Breeders Crown 2-year-old female trotting champion in history.
It was a rewarding weekend for Gingras, who said he never felt pressure with Ariana G, Hannelore Hanover, or Manchego other than at the Breeders Crown because he wanted to keep potential Horse of the Year honors alive for all three of the horses.
"Going into the Breeders Crown I definitely did feel a little pressure on those three," Gingras said. "I love all three of them in different ways and all three are special to me. You want all three of them to have the best shot at winning the Horse of the Year. You don’t want to come to a point where you win with two of them and one of them you mess up the drive.
"It’s one thing if they get beat because they’re sick or some other horse is better and beats them. But it’s another thing to lose the race and maybe lose a chance for those owners to have a Horse of the Year because of my own mistake. Getting it done with all three of them was definitely very special. They got the job done. They did the work. But I put them in position to win and they all three did it."
As for which of the three should receive Horse of the Year, which will be announced at the Dan Patch Awards banquet Feb. 25 in Orlando, Gingras had a simple solution.
"Personally, I hope it’s a triple dead-heat," he said. "I think all three are very special."
With the horsepower Gingras has returning this year, the 38-year-old Quebec native could be looking forward to another strong season.
"I’m really happy with the way (2017) went," said Gingras, who was the sport’s Rising Star Award winner in 2003 and has won 6,672 races and $157 million in purses lifetime. "Hopefully we have a couple more like that."--By Ken Weingartner/USTA