Only five days remain in the 2023 World Professional Chuckwagon Association racing season.
And the race to crown the World Champion driver couldn’t get much closer at all.
Thanks to winning the aggregate title at the Battle of the Rockies in Rocky Mountain House, Alta., on Monday night, Chanse Vigen pulled into a tie atop the World Standings with Jamie Laboucane as both drivers have accumulated 1419 points.
“We’re not done yet,” said Vigen after setting a new track record of 1:13.52 on Monday in Rocky Mountain House, breaking the old standard his father Mike Vigen set in 2013 by just 1/100ths of a second. “We’ve got a big one next weekend, so it’s coming down to the wire. The horses still have a lot left to give. Hopefully we get a good draw. Hopefully we can close the year out in style.”
Heading into the Century Downs World Finals, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday at Century Downs Racetrack and Casino just north of Calgary, the pair will battle it out to see who will supplant last year’s champion Layne MacGillivray as the newest world champ.
“The way Chanse is running here it’s going to be hard to hold him off,” said Laboucane, who has confidence that he can give Vigen a run for his money during the WPCA’s final show of the season. “The horses I have are all healthy and feeling good, so we’ll just take ’er one day at a time and try to run clean and see what happens. We’ll do our best.”
Sitting in third spot in the driver standings with 1367 points, veteran reinsman Jason Glass has an outside shot to win his fifth world title.
“There’s lots of stuff to shoot for that’s left to win in a short period of time,” said Glass, who was also crowned as world champ in 2000, 2008, 2009 and 2012. “I’m just trying to focus on what I need to do night by night and we’ll see how it all turns out.”
The world title isn’t the only thing that will be on the line at Century Downs Racetrack and Casino this week.
Through the first four nights of racing, the top 12 drivers in the world standings will earn points based on daily running and aggregate times while competing in the final three heats each evening.
“You work all year to be in the top 12 and then you’ve got four days to accomplish what you want to do to get to the dash and to win the dash would be awesome,” said Chad Fike, the current fifth-ranked driver in the world standings, who finished third in last year’s championship dash behind winner Kris Molle and runner-up Obrey Motowylo.
The top four drivers with the most points after the first four nights of racing will advance to Sunday afternoon’s Century Downs Winners’ Zone Championship Dash where $75,000 will be up for grabs.
“It would be great if a guy could win it all,” said Ross Knight, who’s currently 12th in the driver standings. “It would be good to even just make the top four, because once you’re in the dash anybody can win it. The toughest part will be to get to the dash. I think it’s going to come down to luck and who gets what barrels and who has the luckiest four days to get there.”
MacGillivray echoed Knight’s comments.
“The big part of that show is that we all start at zero, so the best four guys over the first four nights are going to get into the dash,” MacGillivray said, who’s looking to add a Winners’ Zone Playoff title to the Cowboys Rangeland Derby crown he won at the 2023 Calgary Stampede. “We intend to get there, that’s for sure.”
Also qualifying to compete in the Winners’ Zone Playoff Round are brothers Evan and Wade Salmond along with Motowylo, Rae Croteau Jr., Molle and Kurt Bensmiller.
“We’re pretty fortunate to be in that top 12 going into Century Downs,” said Molle, who set a new Century Downs track record of 1:21.59 on his way to victory in the championship dash one year ago. “Now it’s about a little Lady Luck behind us, maybe we can try to pull off another win like we did last year.”
Although he hasn’t had the type of season that saw him win four world titles in a five-year span from 2015 to 2019, Bensmiller still has his sights set on adding another Winners’ Zone playoff title to his impressive list of accomplishments.
“We’re going to try to win ’er,” said Bensmiller, who pulled off the feat in the event’s first year in 2019. “Every night, it doesn’t matter what’s going on, I’m going to go out to try to win. That’s the game plan, but there’s a lot of tough outfits out there.”
While only the top dozen drivers heading into this week’s show are eligible to capture the Winners’ Zone title, all 36 WPCA reinsmen will compete to become the Century Downs aggregate winner.
“Everyone else is so strong,” said Wade Salmond in regards to the field of drivers he’ll be competing against. “Certainly nothing is easy around here. This is the best of the best. I think we have just as good of a shot as anyone else. We have to have a little luck our way. The horses have got to be on their A game. You just never know. We’re definitely going to give it our best shot.”
Top 12 drivers in WPCA World Standings
Chanse Vigen 1419
“We’re ready,” Vigen said. “We’ve got a good crew here. I’ve got some of the best barn help on the grounds, I believe that. We’ve got a good support crew all the way around and good advertisers behind us.”
Jamie Laboucane 1419
“That would really cap of a season and put a bow on it,” said Laboucane of being able to win his first WPCA world title. “I’d be pretty amazed and honoured. Every driver, that’s one of the big goals for their career is to manage to pull it off. In my first year in the association, I think that would be a pretty big feather in my cap.”
Jason Glass 1367
“Just day by day, I want these horses to do well and to beat some of these other drivers would be amazing,” Glass said. “There’s a lot of nice horses around here and great wagon drivers. It would be fantastic if I could win something.”
Evan Salmond 1366.5
“We got all the new ones in a couple races,” said Salmond of working his new horses into his lineup this season. “They got their fair share of races throughout the summer.”
Chad Fike 1279.5
“It’s a good long track and our horses seem to be really thriving and running hard,” Fike said. “We finished second in the points last year and we’re hoping to maybe finish first and get a good barrel draw and get in that dash on the last day.”
Layne MacGillivray 1273
“It would definitely mean a lot,” said MacGillivray of being able to do well at the final show of the season. “It’s one that you set your sights on at the start of the year. As far as anything on the WPCA Pro Tour, we haven’t won much yet. If we can get a win there, it would put the icing on the cake for a really good summer again.”
Obrey Motowylo 1199.5
“I just have a bunch of young and new horses in the lineup that really haven’t ran together this year, so that’s what’s going to make it tougher,” Motowylo said. “I just want to stay clean and hopefully I can be quick enough with the horses I’ve got left.”
Rae Croteau Jr. 1192.5
“I’ve got to be fast … and clean on top of it,” Croteau Jr. said. “It’s kind a different game because it’s only four days of heads-up (racing) basically and then it’s the end of the season.”
Wade Salmond 1148.5
“I’m pretty confident,” Salmond said. “There’s a lot of tough guys. There’s 11 other guys that are just quick and strong – the best there is. You’re definitely going to have to have all your ducks in a row if you want to be in contention to win.”
Kris Molle 1124
“As long as we can do our part driving and outriders do their part and the horses are doing theirs, we’re doing the best we can that’s for sure,” Molle said. “It would be pretty cool to stay the defending champion.”
Kurt Bensmiller 1112
“With the year we’ve had, I’m pretty surprised that we’re there,” Bensmiller said. “If we can come back and cap it off with a win there at Century Downs it would definitely make things a lot easier.”
Ross Knight 1110
“I guess just a guy’s happy to be there,” Knight said. “Those other 11 guys are tough – extremely tough. We’re just going to hope for a little bit of good luck and see what happens.”