If you had asked him two years ago, this isn’t exactly how Stephane Bouchard would have seen his 2018 season going. The Canadian native has been one of the top catch-drivers in North America for the last couple of decades. Unfortunately, that aspect of his career in harness racing came to an end last spring when he was involved in a horrific accident on the track here at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The accident left Bouchard with broken vertebrae in his neck, injuries so severe that he was told by doctors that it would simply be too risky to ever drive in a race again. As you would expect, for someone who has been involved in horse racing for almost all of his life, the news that his driving career is over was, to say the least, difficult. The classy, likeable Bouchard had to reassess and decided that he would stay in the sport that he so loves.
Stephane Bouchard’s first experience with horses came at the age of ten when he followed his father’s footsteps into barrel racing while in his native Montreal. By age 15, Bouchard got into harness racing, a career that would result in him winning more than 8,500 races as a driver and earning over $75 million in purses. A leading driver at both Monticello and Yonkers Raceways in his career, Bouchard became a Saratoga regular almost a decade ago after relocating here with his family. As you would expect, Stephane made an immediate impact in the driving colony at the Spa and finished in the top handful of drivers on a year-in, year-out basis. Though Bouchard will not be in the sulky again, he is still very involved in the sport of harness racing…and thriving.
The 51 year old Bouchard took a position with the US Trotting Association as an ID technician, covering the upstate New York and New England territories, a job that started in March of this year. In addition, Bouchard has focused his attention in large part to the running of a small stable with his wife Eve Bergeron. Bergeron’s first year as a trainer was in 2013 but it wasn’t until two years later when she had enough starts to make an impression at the Spa. The most starts Bergeron has recorded as a trainer in any year thus far came in ’16 when she started 121 horses, winning twenty times. Managing the smaller size stable, Bergeron has finished every season with a very strong training percentage, averaging well upwards of .310 in the five year sample.
Here in 2018, Bergeron and Bouchard have combined to put together another strong season with their stable, one that really hit its stride here in the final months of the campaign. A group of trotters has highlighted the surge at the Spa for the Bergeron barn, a stable that won five consecutive races over a week span. On Sunday, Guida’s Geisha finished third while starting from the rail as she looked to rattle off her third consecutive victory for Eve and Stephane. The four year old trotting mare was taking a big jump up in company for the Sunday try after utilizing her early speed to score back to back jacks. On the same matinee cards in which Guida’s Geisha prevailed in two straight, her stablemate Priest Man also secured victories. A new addition to the Bergeron barn, Priest Man had little difficulty going coast to coast in successive tries, winning his first two local starts by a combined thirteen lengths. Guida’s Geisha and Priest Man comprised a four-race win streak for Bergeron behind their scores on October 25thand 28thleading into Thursday afternoon’s try for yet another Bergeron trainee.
JS Miss Carolyn, who finished second in the John Mongeon Memorial Trotting Series Final this spring, competed in the recently concluded Jim Derue Memorial Trotting Series before dropping in company for a Thursday start from the rail. The four year old had ten second-place finishes to her credit this season but only one win when she went wire-to-wire on the matinee program to extend the Bergeron stable’s win streak to five. In fact, the wins kept coming for Bergeron who even recorded back to back wins in qualifiers contested on Friday morning! That streak, though, came to an end on Friday night when they debuted a talented pacing mare named Velocity Mcsweets who had to settle for fourth in her first local start but is one to watch moving forward. While the trotters have led the way, the stable star for Bergeron in the past couple of months has been pacing mare Queen Elsa. In nine starts since her acquisition, Queen Elsa has recorded four wins to go along with a pair of second-place finishes for Bergeron, climbing the class ranks all the way up into the Fillies and Mares Open which is where she made her most recent start. Though she is seemingly a bit overmatched at that level, Queen Elsa has proven to be a force since coming to the Spa and is the top pacer out of her red-hot stable.
While Bouchard can no longer do the driving for Bergeron’s trainees, there is a different “Canadian invader” who has come south and made an impression in the sulky at Saratoga. When Bouchard was competing in barrel racing quite some years ago while north of the border, he met the father of Melanie Boulianne. Stephane reconnected with the family friends and found out that Melanie’s husband had been a driver at Three Rivers Racetrack in Quebec. Her husband Steeven Genois agreed to come to Saratoga to assist Bouchard and Bergeron in the stables and to do their driving. Genois has piloted almost all of Bergeron’s trainees in their local starts and sat behind all but one of her local winners. In recent weeks, the 29 year old Genois has been earning more and more work as a catch-driver as well. After exclusively driving for Bergeron in the first several months of his rookie season at the Spa, Genois has begun to pick up some quality drives. Genois has become the regular reinsman for last year’s claiming pacer of the year Babinga Wood, piloting him to successive second-place finishes in his last two starts. On Friday night, Steeven drove Blitz Victory for trainer Brett Derue and piloted that claiming trotter to his third consecutive win. He may not have the prowess or resume that Stephane Bouchard had in his illustrious driving career but Steeven Genois has done a nice job acclimating himself to Saratoga and learning how to blend into the very strong local driving colony. Genois is sure to tally the most drives he’s had in any season in his young career and most likely to accrue more wins than in any previous year as well aided by the recent boom for the barn of Eve Bergeron and Stephane Bouchard.
Live racing takes place on Thursday and Sunday afternoons at Saratoga with 12:15pm starts to the matinees. Nighttime racing occurs every Friday and Saturday evening with 6:45pm first posts. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!