Monday, 11 December 2023 19:29

Alberta's Driving Titans Mike Hennessy and Phil Giesbrecht Reflect on Crossing the $1-Million Earnings Milestone

Mike Hennessy and Phil Giesbrecht Mike Hennessy and Phil Giesbrecht

Mike Hennessy and Phil Giesbrecht recently both went over the $1-million mark for driving earnings this year.

Two of the best drivers in Alberta, they are also both of the two nicest and personable individuals in the sport.

Hennessy-driven horses have won $1,129,437 so far this year.

Giesbrecht-driven horses have won $1,079,033 this year.

“It’s a nice thing to accomplish,” said Hennessy, who is also nearing another milestone - $3-million in career driving earnings.

“It’s not a huge driving colony so I’ve been getting lots of drives and I have been fortunate to have sat behind a lot of really good horses.”

“There’s Brandon Campbell, Phil and myself. The three of us have all had really good years,” said Hennessy, who won six races in just one day - the recent Super Finals card when his victories included the Two-Year-Old Fillies Super Finals with precocious ByBy Baby ByBy.

Campbell has gone over $2-million in earnings this year for the second-straight season.

Hennessy and Giesbrecht are almost mirror images. Both came close to achieving that $1-million plateau last year as well when Hennessy won $938,726 with his drives and Giesbrecht won $982,184.

Giesbrecht is nearing $8-million in career winning drives.

Hennessy’s remark that he has been the beneficiary of nice horses to drive this year is certainly true.

By far, the nicest is Shark Week, who won his 14th straight race this past weekend at Century Mile.

Simply over powering and phenomenal, Shark Week - with 19 victories in total this year - has won $134,990 himself. On June 3 at Century Downs in Calgary, Shark Week became the first horse in history to pace faster than 1:50 in Western Canada when he stopped the tele-timer at in a sensational 1:49 2/5.

“He really jumped out of the gate on Saturday night. I got an easy first quarter (:28 3/5) and he just marched on,” said Hennessy, 40.

“He loves to race and he knows what is going on all the time. No horse is going to sneak up on him.”

As for ByBy Baby ByBy, Hennessy said he expects even more from the two-year-old filly, owned by Bryan Brook and Diane Hennessy.

“Both her mom and her sister both got a lot better at three years of age,” said Hennessy, of the filly who won four of her seven starts including a two-year-old track record of 1:52 2/5 at Century Mile in one of the best races of the year after a torrid stretch drive with Outlawguns N Roses.

“She’s got enough speed now but hopefully she gets even a little quicker and a little stronger next year.”

“I’m really looking forward to driving her next year.”

Another top horse Hennessy drove this year was Blue Star Mercury, who won the $110,000 Western Canada Pacing Derby on Oct. 21 at Century Mile.

“He got big at the right time,” said Hennessy.

Hennessy also mentioned Tajmania, who won 11 of 30 starts this year for trainer Travis Ellis, and Kioti from the Doug and Derek Stout barn. Kioti won 11 of 19 starts - seven of them in Alberta.

And that’s not to overlook Daisy Corvette, who had five wins moving from $7,000 claimers to Preferred mares.

“A game little mare,” said Hennessy, who said he tries to drive knowing what he’s got and maximize their abilities so they have something left at the end.

“Over driving a horse is never a good thing.”

As for Giesbrecht he won with just about every kind of horse.

“I don’t pay much attention to statistics. I’m just here to do my job with every horse I sit behind and try and win races.”

“But going over $1-million is different because it shows how good a year I had.”

“We don’t race a lot in Alberta so to reach that mark was special.”

“Statistics don’t lie.”

Giesbrecht’s 2023 season certainly didn’t start out well. He broke his right wrist on March 11 on the first day and the first race of the season-opener in Calgary at Century Downs when a horse he drove, Show Stop broke stride and went to her knees.

“Then I got run over,” said Giesbrecht.

“Fortunately the horse was fine but my wrist wasn’t. It hurt a lot but I finished out the card. The next day it got worse and I finally went to see a doctor who confirmed it was broken.”

Giesbrecht returned to driving just over two weeks later.

“Thankfully I’m a quick healer. But sitting out still seemed like an eternity.”

“Other than that for sure I am happy with the year I’ve had. No complaints at all,” said Giesbrecht partnered up with the very talented Gerry Hudon about seven years ago.

“We’ve got about 16 horses with Bill Andrew one of our biggest partners. It’s been a good combination,” said Giesbrecht, who is married to Hudon’s daughter Jocelyn.

“I had a good meet in Calgary and at Lacombe to jump start the season. I hopped on some really good horses.”

Jocelyn and Phil now have two children - Trace, who is two-and-a-half years old and Addison, who is just six months old.

“It keeps us busy but it’s a lot of fun. I’m a kid at heart too. I played a lot of hockey and baseball when I was young. I was pretty good at both sports.”

“Trace even has his own driving suit, goggles, whip and helmet,” said Giesbrecht, who started driving in Manitoba and then Saskatchewan on their fair circuits in 2007.

“I came to Alberta in 2008 and raced at the Northlands winter meet,” said Giesbrecht, who took his driver’s test the day after he turned 18. “I was chomping on the bit; I couldn’t wait.”

“Then I went to Ontario for two years and then back to Alberta.”

One of the biggest races Giesbrecht won this year was the $100,000 Mary Murphy stake at B.C.’s Fraser Downs on Nov. 24 with Red N ready, when he got up in the final strides to defeat 1-9 favourite Side Piece, who won the $134,300 Century Filly Pace at Century Mile.

Flying to Fraser Downs several times this year to drive, Giesbrecht said “I did well there too. It was good for me to go there. It really helped my year.”

“It was just a solid year all the way.”

Giesbrecht followed his grandfather, Sylvio Fillion, to get into harness racing.

“Sylvio trained and drove and shod horses. But I had to get out of Manitoba to continue my career.”

“At first I just drove the odd horse and worked for Rod Hennessy,” he said of Mike’s very successful father. “I listened and paid attention.”

“You can learn something from anybody. I kept my ear to the ground.”

“I learned a lot in Ontario too. It really helped my driving,” said Giesbrecht, who said he had always dreamt of racing at Woodbine.

“People didn’t know who I was. It was pretty intimidating driving against some of the best drivers in the world. It was like going to school again. Or learning how to walk. I watched how they presented themselves. I became a student of the game. I thought I drove pretty well when I was there.”

“Now I’m hungrier than ever before,” said Giesbrecht, 35.

Literally and figuratively.

“Beginning in February I lost a ton of weight this year. I used to weigh 190 pounds but I got down to 145-150 pounds.”

“I just felt sluggish. Harness drivers are athletes too. You have to be sharp.”

“I just went on a diet and watched what I ate and drank. I quit drinking sugar sodas. I drank pop like crazy. Now I just drink water.”

“It’s really helped. It’s made a big difference. I’ve got more confidence now than ever before. And I’m a lot stronger.”

“I wish I had done that when I was younger and playing sports.”

“I had all the tools but maybe not the tool box.”

“Mentally I’m also sharper. Mental health is very important. I try and keep everything positive now.”

“I worry about what I can do and not worry so much about other people.”

“In hockey what happens on the ice stays on the ice. It’s the same on the racetrack.”

“If I make a mistake I just on to the next race.”

“I can turn it over. There’s no use dwelling on it.”

“It’s still hard to do sometimes. I used to be my worst critic. Sometimes I still am. But I’ve learned that’s what done is done.”

“It’s been working out big time.”

(Merry Christmas everyone. Have a joyful holiday season.)

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Read 2588 times Last modified on Monday, 11 December 2023 20:22