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al horseman Marc Camirand went to the yearling auction in Kentucky in 2017 looking to buy one horse and get back in the sport after a couple of years on the sidelines.

He came back with a horse and a quarter.

The fraction made all the difference. As co-owner of trotter Dream Nation, Camirand had a piece of one of the dominant two-year-olds on the Ontario circuit in 2018, and his first O'Brien Award finalist.

"It's fun to have a horse like that. They don't come around every year," said Camirand, 69, who trained top horses including Hambletonian Oaks runner-up Ariane Du Haras and classy pacer Le Courrier during a four-decade career that ended with his retirement in 2011.

Another Quebec native, Jacques Dupont, is the trainer of Dream Nation, and Camirand said he deserves the credit for the gelding's impressive campaign.

Dupont had the Archangel gelding circled on his sale catalogue at Lexington when Camirand bumped into him about an hour before the horse went through the ring.

"I had noticed the horse myself -- he was almost black, a real looker -- but I didn't think he'd go for less than $60,000. I certainly couldn't afford him myself. But I told Jacques that I'd take a share if the price wasn't too high. I was very surprised he went for $42,000. I guess it's because he was an Archangel rather than a Muscle Hill or Chapter Seven. That was our good luck," said Camirand, who has headed the horsemen's association in Quebec for the past eight years.

The Quebec-based ownership group of Dream Nation includes Dupont's Ecuries Dorleans of Repentigny, Camirand, Ecurie CSL of Sorel and Gestion C. Levesque 2005 Inc. of St-Hyacinthe.

Camirand said he could see early on that Dream Nation had potential. He trained the horse he bought for himself, a still-unraced Donato Hanover colt called Ace Bi, alongside Dream Nation in Florida last winter.

"Jacques liked mine at first, but Dream Nation impressed me more. He always looked good. All he did was trot, easily. He's got a big motor. He looked like a Gold horse from the start."

The young trotter made an immediate impact at the races, capturing his first three starts in Ontario (including two OSS Golds), then an elimination and the $53,800 final of the Balanced Image at Hanover Raceway. Before the end of his 10-race campaign, he'd added another Gold, in a career best 1:55.3 at Woodbine Mohawk Park, and a runner-up finish in the Champlain. Demonstrating an ability to race in front, at the back or mid-pack, he racked up six wins, two seconds and a third and earnings of $205,290. His only off-the-board finish came in the $225,000 OSS Super Final, when he lagged by as many as 13 lengths and wound up fourth, two lengths behind the other O'Brien finalist Forbidden Trade, after a troubled trip.

Camirand said the horse wasn't staked much beyond the OSS as a two-year-old, but that will change in 2019, with the Breeders Crown as one of this year's targets.

He's not expecting a victory at the O'Briens, because Forbidden Trade had more late-season momentum, but "I'm not sure that horse is better than ours. I guess we'll see at three."

Win or lose, the trotter has undoubtedly rekindled Camirand's racing dreams. From having no horses two years ago, he now has shares of seven.

Standardbred Canada will present the 30th edition of the O’Brien Awards on Saturday, February 2, 2019 at the Hilton Mississauga/Meadowvale Hotel. Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased until Thursday, January 24 by contacting the Member & Stakeholder Relations Department at 905-858-3060. Tickets are $200 each (includes HST) and include a cocktail reception, gourmet dinner, wine, and complimentary portrait.