Intimidate, a whopping 45/1 longshot, nipped 1/5 favourite Sebastian K in a photo finish to capture the $603,000 Maple Leaf Trot in a huge upset on a soggy Saturday night at Mohawk Racetrack. Afterwards, a mud-covered Filion admitted his first career Maple Leaf Trot victory was a most unlikely one.
"I know, but I had a lot of confidence in my horse," said the resident of Milton, Ont. "He hasn't been exactly 100 per cent so far this year but Luc (trainer Luc Blais) did a great job, he had him ready.
"He was just amazing. We had a perfect trip and I think the muddy track kind of helped."
Afterwards, race officials confirmed that fourth-place finisher Modern Family collapsed in the paddock and died. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Modern Family, a five-year-old stallion, earned 19 wins from 51 career starts and amassed lifetime earnings of $566,000. This year, he had finished in the money in 13-of-14 starts (six wins, six seconds, one third).
Sebastian K was the talk of the race coming in, and with good reason. The eight-year-old horse from Sweden and driver/trainer Aka Svanstedt were a perfect 5-0 so far this season and June 28, Sebastian K won the Sun Invitational at Pocono Downs by seven lengths in 1:49 to become harness racing's fastest trotter ever.
Before coming to North America, Sebastian K had victories in top events such as the 2013 Oslo Grand Prix, a heat of the 2013 Elitlopp and '12 UET Trotting Masters.
But a steady downpour Saturday night reduced the Mohawk Racetrack surface to sloppy, which wasn't exactly ideal for the shoeless Sebastian K. Still, Svanstedt took his horse to the lead just before the half-mile mark and the oldest trotter in the 10-horse field looked poised for the win before Intimidate came from the outside to capture the victory by a nose in 1:54.2.
"I was just trying to keep my cover and keep focus and keep my horse flat," Filion said. "I knew he was going to kick home for me.
"I just didn't know if he was going to go by Sebastian K."
Svanstedt said the muddy conditions took their toll on Sebastian K.
"It was a heavy track and when we opened that fast it took a lot of energy from our horse," he said. "It was too fast, a tough first quarter.
"He's still a great horse and he beat a great horse to be second. He raced very well."
Market Share, last year's Maple Leaf Trot champion driven by American Tim Tetrick, was third. Trainer Linda Toscano was pleased with her horse's effort, given the abundance of traffic he had to deal with coming down the stretch.
"He raced super," she said. "I couldn't have asked for anything more, we were in an impossible spot and he came with a late kick.
"He had to turn right halfway down the stretch in order to find a clear lane. He probably cost himself two lengths when he had to do that. He raced as well as a horse could race. He's just a good horse, he doesn't care what he races on."
The remainder of the field, in order of finish, included: Flanagan Memory; Mister Herbie; Wheeling N Dealin; Creatine; Wishing Stone; and Archangel.
Intimidate paid $96.50 and $12.20 while Sebastian K returned $2.10.
Intimidate, a past Breeders Crown and O'Brien Award winner, won seven-of-nine starts last year but has struggled in 2014. Saturday's win is his third in seven races and the four-year-old finished a distant fifth in his Maple Leaf Trot elimination race heat last weekend, five-and-a-half lengths behind winner Market Share.
"So far this year he's been very inconsistent,' Filion said. "He's got a few issues but he put it all together tonight.
"It was good timing."
Saturday's victory also maintained Filion's winning ways. The two-time O'Brien Award winner drove Boomboom Ballykeel to victory in last year's $683,000 Metro Pace en route to being named Canada's top driver in 2013.
"A lot of it is luck and being able to draw some good horses and work with great people," Filion said modestly.