SI Vault
William F. Reed
September 06, 1971
With a cocky smile Herve Filion drives to win, and win he does, more harness races than anyone
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September 06, 1971

He Who Laughs Last

With a cocky smile Herve Filion drives to win, and win he does, more harness races than anyone

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"I want this horse in here," Filion will say, pointing to an entry sheet.

"But, Herve," Sherman will argue, "he's only had a couple nights' rest. You can't race him."

"Wanna bet? If I had my way, I'd race them every other night."

"Herve does not like to baby his horses," Sherman says. "His theory is that you can't win money unless you race, so start as often as possible."

One night last year at Brandywine, Filion drove Bye Bye Surprise to victory in 2:00[1/5]. The next night he brought the same horse back and won again in identical time. Nevertheless, he bristles when it is suggested that he works his horses too hard. "Anybody will tell you that in races I push my horses only enough to win," says Filion. "I don't care for fast times. I'm in this business to stay, and I've got to think about keeping my horses sound so they can race again next week." He lost Marlu Pride, the colt he had turned from a lackluster 2-year-old into a sensational 3-year-old (SI, Aug. 24, 1970), when, contrary to the wishes of the horse's owner, he refused to start the animal because he felt it was lame. The colt was turned over to another trainer who raced him when and where he was told.

Filion seems to have an insatiable appetite for driving, and his skills are derived in good part from old-fashioned hard work. He is capable of intense concentration, and when he is preparing for a night of driving he becomes so preoccupied that he is distant, even rude. Between races he studies every horse and driver in the next field, searching for an edge, something he can exploit. "He's got a photographic mind, a fantastic memory," says Mrs. Helfrich. "He improves any horse he drives," says Kiser. "Once he had a mare named Rita Gallon," says Judge Taylor. "She had a habit of freezing up before the start of a race, so Herve would jump off his sulky and run with her to get her going. Then he'd leap onto the bike, and off they would go to the gate. Somehow they always got there in time and never caused a recall, so I didn't see anything illegal in it."

A favorite Filion maneuver is to make his sulky jump sideways during a race, the better to squeeze through a tight hole. "It's something I learned from Keith Waples," he says. "Rather than move the horse's head and throw him off-balance, I hop the bike two feet sideways. I can go right or left. It's not dangerous if you know how and do it quickly."

" Filion has the hands and the brains," says his admiring rival, Dauplaise. Another driver, Roger White, declares, "He's got the spirit. He gets up and goes to bed with the same idea—winning races. I think he gets his biggest kick getting his picture taken in the winner's circle."

Most of Filion's opponents temper their praise of his skills. For instance, George Sholty declares, " Filion has a great sense of pace. He knows a horse, whether he trains him or is just catch-driving. Although he is hard to beat, I like to race against him because he is not hacking or jamming around like some drivers. But I don't think he is a wizard. Let's just say he is as good as there is."

Established drivers, perhaps understandably, resent Filion's cockiness, his banter, his so-long-sucker smile when he moves away from them with a winning horse. "One night," Kiser recalls, "I saw him turn around in the stretch and grin at Stanley Dancer. Stanley was furious."

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