Rheo Filion was born into harness racing. His father and seven brothers are all in the field and one brother, driver Herve, has won more races (almost 9,000) than anybody else in the history of the sport.
But those connections don't solve all the problems for Rheo Filion, a trainer and driver like Herve. Bending over to check the leg of a pacer at Rosecroft, he said, "If anyone tells you the horse-racing business is easy, tell them they're a liar."
Rheo Filion, a native of Angers, Quebec, was only 12 when he drove his first horse, Canada Bill, at a fair in Quebec. "The owner was afraid to drive him, so he asked me to," Filion said.
In the early 1970s, Filion, who is now 39, followed the lead of his brothers and moved to the United States. Filion was successful at Freehold Raceway in New Jersey and it was there that he met his wife, Alicia, through an acquaintance at the track.
Life could not have been better until three years ago, when Freehold's racing secretary, Frank Ferone, called Filion into his office. According to Filion, Ferone told him he was no longer welcome at Freehold and that, "It was in our interest and his interest that I not race here."
Courts have upheld the right of tracks to exclude those whom they feel may not further their best interests, so Filion had little recourse. He says he was forced to sell everything, including his farm. "They really hurt me," said Filion.
Filion moved to Foxboro Raceway near Boston, but after two years he was forced to leave there, this time for financial reasons. "There's no money at Foxboro," he said. "No future. I had to make a move. I won a lot of races, but I couldn't pay expenses."
Last fall, Filion made what he now says is likely to be his last move: to Maryland. In the past year, Filion has won two of Rosecroft's biggest races. In May, he took a division of the Miller Memorial driving Mannart Maple Leaf and, in October, he guided Escape Forever to victory in the $100,000 Inauguration.
At Rosecroft's current meet, Filion is the leading driver based on percentage. "I do my best," he said modestly.
With the help of his wife and a groom, he currently trains 12 horses. Like most horesemen, he works seven days a week, morning to midnight on race days. "Its a hard life . . . you have to love it," he said.
"I'm starting to get back on my feet. I bought a house," said Filion, adding, "I plan to stay here all my life."