Herve Filion, for Many Years Harness Racing’s Top Driver, Dies at 77

He was a regular at East Coast tracks, like Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island, Freehold Raceway in New Jersey and Brandywine Raceway in Delaware, but often went farther afield, to California and other states.

1971 Little Brown Jug – Nansemond & Herve Filion Video by RooseveltRaceway

Filion brought a marathon runner’s endurance to reach his enormous win total. Harness racing programs usually consist of 10 to 15 races at a track each day; at Filion’s peak, he averaged about 16 races a day, six days a week, often traveling to different racetracks using helicopters and private planes. (Races are run in one of two gaits, pacing or trotting.)

Filion could be self-effacing about his stamina. “The horses do all the work,” he told The New York Times in 1989. “I just go along for the ride.”

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In June 2002, Filion returned to harness racing at Harrington Raceway in Harrington, Del., after a seven-year suspension.

Credit
Pat Crowe Ii/Associated Press

The pay was an added incentive: Filion won at least $1 million every season from 1969 to 1995. For many years, he owned a stable and raced the dozens of horses he owned, granting him a higher percentage of winnings than most drivers received. (The stable, in Englishtown, N.J., caught fire in 1978, killing a groom, a blacksmith and more than 40 horses, and Filion spent most of his remaining career driving horses he did not own.)

Filion’s winnings peaked at more than $5 million a year in 1988 and 1989.

But his earnings dried up entirely in 1995, when he was charged with fixing races at Yonkers Raceway as part of a scheme engineered by Daniel Kramer, who ran a multimillion-dollar gambling ring. Filion’s license was revoked.

“That first day I got arrested, I stopped living,” he told The Times in 1996. “I want history to remember me for everything I’ve done, not for what I was accused of doing. I never took money for throwing a race. And I would never take money from a gambler.”

The race-fixing charges were eventually dropped, but he could not race for years and had to work as a groom to make ends meet.

When he finally returned to racing, at Harrington Raceway in Delaware in 2002, he won three of 11 races on the card. He continued to race until he retired in 2012, with a career total of $88.4 million in winnings.

Herve Arthur Filion was born on Feb. 1,…

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