MILTON, January 15, 2024— Louis-Philippe Roy has plenty of reasons, five, specifically, to be excited about the upcoming O’Brien Awards.
When the names of the finalists are read aloud on the evening that recognizes Canadian excellence in Standardbred racing, Roy will have a close association with four of the nominees.
The 34-year-old will also be in the spotlight himself, going up against James MacDonald for Driver of the Year honours.
“It was great to find out that I was a finalist,” said Roy. “Every time you are recognized for what you do is a nice feeling.
“Personally, it felt like it was my best year so far. I know I was a little bit in the shadow of James, but I am pretty proud overall of what I was able to do all through 2023. I was lucky enough to drive very good horses, especially more of them on the Grand Circuit.”
Win or lose, Roy, who won the Driver of the Year award in 2018 and 2019, will look back on his most recent campaign as one of his most memorable.
In 2023, Roy set a career-high in earnings, with just under $7.6 million. His win total (311) on Canadian ovals was third best in the nation.
A testament to his talents in the race bike came in the form of the quality pacers and trotters he sat behind, namely, fellow O’Brien short-listers Drawn Impression, Fashion Frenzie, HP Mama B, and Tattoo Artist.
Drawn Impression, up against Willys Home Run in the Two-Year-Old Trotting Filly category, made an impactful first impression in her rookie campaign. The bay, bred and owned by Determination, won four times in six starts. The daughter of Muscle Hill earned $308,900 for trainer Luc Blais.
She was at the top of her game in the $425,000 Peaceful Way, when she humbled her rivals to the tune of a 4 ¾-length triumph in a personal-best 1:54.2.
Roy has driven the daughter of Muscle Hill in all her starts.
“She has a lot of talent. When you ask her for her best, she will give you that. She had a great year.”
Fashion Frenzie, a two-time O’Brien Award winner, was stylish in victory six times from 12 races in 2023. The six-year-old son of Archangel, trained by Richard Moreau, has been a force at the Free For All/Open ranks at Woodbine Mohawk Park, with all six victories coming at that level.
Highlights include taking the Earl Rowe for the second consecutive year and being selected as Canada’s representative in the Yonkers International Trot.
“He is another very good one,” praised Roy, of the gelding who bankrolled $204,256 for his connections in 2023. “He is very consistent, but if he does have an off night, you know he will always come back strong the next time.”
Logan Park, also another son of Archangel, is the other finalist in the Older Trotting Horse division.
Trained by Ben Baillargeon, HP Mama B is an O’Brien Award finalist in the Older Trotting Mare category for the second time. The hard-knocking daughter of Royalty For Life tested her mettle against the boys at the Preferred level and came out with a winner’s circle photo on four occasions.
Her richest paydays in 2023 came courtesy of a third-place finish in the Breeders Crown final and a third-place performance in the Dayton Oaks.
“I like the way she never gives up,” praised Roy. “She faced a lot of tough competition last year and she always gave her best.”
Adare Castle is the other finalist.
Roy partnered with venerable campaigner Tattoo Artist to claim victory in the Canadian Pacing Derby, Jim Ewart Memorial and Dayton Pacing Derby.
An Ontario-bred and sired son of Hes Watching, Tattoo Artist has stamped himself as a finalist in the category for the second consecutive year. Last season, the six-year-old won nine races and reached the $1 million mark in earnings for the second straight year.
Of those nine wins, seven of them came in Canada, where he was under the tutelage of trainer Dr. Ian Moore. His highest profile score came at Woodbine Mohawk Park, where he won the Canadian Pacing Derby.
Tattoo Artist will face off against Emmetts Buddy for the Older Pacing Horse trophy.
“We won seven straight races together,” noted Roy. “His record speaks for itself. He has over $3 million in earnings and has won some big, big races. You can win with him coming from off the pace or on the front – just a very nice horse.”
Seeing all four recognized by O’Brien voters is a huge thrill for Roy.
“Every time you race, you want to win, but when you drive those quality horses in the big races, it’s a great feeling.”
Did Roy, who is drawing closer to 2,500 career wins, expect to have the season he did?
“Even if you are the best driver, you need to have good horses year after year. I didn’t have any goals coming into last year, but I am very pleased with how things went. This past year, I feel as though I was a more accomplished driver than I was in 2018 (the year he won a career-best 416 races).”
As for what he believes his best skill is in the sulky, Roy took a quick pause, accompanied by a laugh, before he gave his answer.
“Five years ago, I could get speed out of the horses, but maybe I didn’t quite measure that speed enough at times, especially young horses. Now, if I was a trainer, I would feel confident in letting me drive their young horses, knowing I can give them a winning drive. That’s my goal every time I line up behind the gate.”
Roy, whose horses have eclipsed the $44-million mark in earnings, isn’t going to tinker with the approach to his craft in 2024.
It certainly makes sense considering what he was able to accomplish last year.
“You try to keep yourself at the top, so trainers and owners see you and want to have you drive their horses. The more you are recognized, the better it is for your future. I am excited for what 2024 can be.”
The winners will be announced on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, at the O’Brien Awards Gala, which will take place at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Prince Edward in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms