Steeven Genois was unknown to most harness racing fans when he came to Saratoga Casino Hotel last year. The young Canadian invader had only a little more than 100 career wins as a driver when he appeared at the Spa last season as the regular driver for the Eve Bergeron-Stephane Bouchard stable. Bouchard, one of the winningest catch-drivers in North America over the course of the last couple of decades suffered a career-ending injury in a race back in June of 2017 and subsequently took up running a stable with his wife Eve Bergeron. Bouchard had an old family friend from decades ago who is the father of Melanie Boulianne. When he reconnected with the family, he 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 stable and to do their driving.
Genois drove almost exclusively for the Bergeron stable throughout the first several months of last season. The Bergeron barn enjoyed enough success for Eve to earn the Peerless McGrath Award at Saratoga in ’18, an award that recognizes the track’s top breakthrough trainer for that year. As the meet progressed, the young reinsman started to pick up a few more drives. It was in the fall months when trainer Brett Derue started to take notice of Genois after his owner Garry Simzer approached him about the possibility of having the Saratoga newbie drive some of their horses for them.
Derue has always used a host of different drivers but most commonly would have his brother Jordan do the piloting for his stable. With Jordan driving members of his own barn and traveling to other tracks on some nights, Brett was in search of a driver that he could consistently use. Simzer, who watches all the races at Saratoga, suggested that they give young Genois a shot. Genois got the nod and enjoyed instant success while piloting for Derue. Ever since, that tandem has been a potent one with Genois getting first call on all of Derue’s horses. “After he did such a great job right out of the gate for us, we obviously kept using Steve. I like to have consistency with the driver I use and he gives us that chance. He became my first call on everything late last year and that’s how it is today,” Brett Derue told me.
Simzer, another Canadian native, knew the Derues’ father Jimmy from high school decades ago. Always interested in getting into the harness racing business, Simzer found Brett Derue on Facebook and reached out to him about training prospective members of his stable. The two have turned into a successful pairing, a duo that has now become a trio with the addition of Genois to the “team.” Derue told me that in addition to his talents in the sulky, he really likes Genois’ dedication. “He’s hungry. He really wants it. This is a guy who would come back and forth from Canada every week last year. We gave him a shot and are glad we did. He’s become part of our team,” Brett explained. One thing I asked Derue about was the potential of a communication barrier with Genois who is still learning English as his second language. “It was a bit of an issue in the beginning,” Derue admitted. “My wife Jessica is bilingual so she was a big help when it came to communicating with Steve but he does just fine. He comes back after the race and discusses the horse and any issues that might be going on. His English has gotten a lot better as well but no, it certainly doesn’t hamper anything when it comes to having him drive. He communicates plenty well enough.”
While Genois added Derue last fall to the list of trainers that he’s become the regular driver for, the 30 year old reinsman’s list has expanded recently. Trainer Rene Allard is currently second in earnings in all of North America in 2019. The top-flight conditioner usually uses leading driver Billy Dobson when he brings members of his stable to town. Often times, Dobson has other horses to drive in a particular race and that leaves Allard to pick from the host of other members of the local driving colony. In the early portion of this season, that member that he’s been choosing is Steve Genois. On Saturday night, Genois was tasked with piloting Allard trainee Stars Align A in the evening’s $15,000 Open Pace. With last year’s trio of Pacer of the Year nominees Carolina Beach, JK Panache and Artful Way, the three-time defending top pacer at the Spa, all among his competitors, the prospects of winning an Open looked bleak on paper for Stars Align N. Certainly not impossible but bleak. Genois hasn’t had many drives in Opens since coming to Saratoga in ’18 but on Saturday night, he sat behind Stars Align A.
In the invader’s lone local try, Stars Align A got parked the mile while competing in the feature. On Saturday night, Genois took him back in the early going but was aggressive approaching the half, rolling the six year old Allard trainee first-over on the co-favored Carolina Beach. Behind a third quarter power surge of 27 seconds, Stars Align A cruised past his rivals before scoring in 1:52.3 for his first local Open Pace win. The victory also served as the first Open win for Steeven Genois (and yes his first name is spelled correctly) in his thus far brief time driving at Saratoga. It was the second consecutive win on the card for Genois who drove Derue’s Allstar Energy to a wire-to-wire victory for the second straight week in the race preceding the Open. A driving double was something that upon coming to the Spa last season was very rare for Genois but these days that simply isn’t the case. In fact, Genois now finds himself among the top handful of drivers in wins thus far in the young season at the Spa. For a driver whose career-best win total in a year was 24, set in 2018, Genois is sure to make his ’19 season not only a career year but a real breakthrough campaign. In addition to his focal point Eve Bergeron stable, Genois has become the regular driver at the Spa for Brett Derue, Bert Belanger and Dan Gill and has also piloted winners for several other trainers already this season. Genois, who had been commuting back-and-forth to Canada every week in 2018 has now set up shop at the Spa full-time and calls Saratoga home. And home sweet home it has been for the track’s near lock for the Johnny Page Award in 2019, the award that recognizes the track’s top breakthrough driver.
Live racing takes place every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon starting at 12:00pm and on Saturday evening beginning at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!