Vale Mike De Filippi

By Michael Guerin

Colin De Filippi doesn’t hesitate for a second when asked to rate the talent of his brother Mike, who passed away at his Canterbury home on Friday.

"He was a better driver than me, right from the start,” says Colin.

It is one of the ultimate compliments for Mike, who would have turned 72 on October 30 but died after a difficult last year of failing health

While the dual De Filippis have been part of our industry for as long as anybody can remember Mike’s name has not been as prominent in recent years as first his eyesight then his health started to deteriorate.

But there was a reason both brothers are in the elite 1000-win driving club. For all Colin’s polish and patience Mike (1161 career wins) was confidence and guile, both natural horsemen who chose to sharpen different tools of the ones they were gifted.

There was a time in the 1980s and 90s they were feared by rivals and loved by punters in an era of horsemen like Robert Cameron, Peter Jones and Jack Smolenski to mention a few. A time of rare skill and plenty of cunning. Even then, whether it be dominating Victoria Park in Greymouth or pulling off a sting at Addington, Mike was a small giant, armed with total self belief.

“He was a better driver than me right from when were young,” says Colin matter-of-fact.

Even though you know the comments of a loving brother will be through the rose-tinted glasses of grief, Colin says there was proof of his talent long before Mike found this throne in a sulky.

“He was always a talented sportsman, he was a bloody good rugby player and I kind of wish he hadn’t given it up so young,” says Colin.

“And he could box. He has fast hands but his only real boxing fight came when he was six in Reefton.

“Dad took him along there and the only other kid they had him to fight was eight years old and the doctor didn’t want to allow it cause Mike was so small.

“Dad said let him fight cause he will be okay and Mike beat the other kid up and after that Did didn’t take him back to boxing any more.”

He put those fast hands and sharp eyes to spectacular use in the sulky and had his share of really good horses like Quiet Win, who finished third to Bonnies Chance and Armalight in a real New Zealand Cup in 1982.

Another of his good pacers Hoppy’s Jet was good enough to win an Ashburton Flying Stakes 26 years ago beating big Cups winners in Bee Bee Cee, Master Musician and Burlington Bertie.

Sundowner Bay was a highly talented trotter, Alias Armbro who Mike drove to win the 1979 Dominion may have been a better one.

Mike also triumphed in one of our most infamous harness races, the 1984 NZ Derby which Naval Officer won after a sickening smash that saw nine horses fall at the Addington winning post 200m after the start.

Only five horses remained on their feet and Mike, not one to get fazed, secured the one-one with Naval Officer and timed his run to perfection to win the classic like nothing has happened until after the race.

That was Mike De Filippi. Laser-sharp focus, determined, talented, little time for fools but all the time in the world during a race.

He is survived by four daughters and two sons.

He is also survived by some great stories and iconic moments. And tremendous respect inside his industry.

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