Last Preps For Hambo Contenders

Published: July 24, 2013 01:08 pm EDT

Top-rated three-year-old trotting colts will be putting in some work this Saturday in preparation for the upcoming Hambletonian.

Royalty For Life will start Saturday night at Vernon Downs in a $13,200 Preferred Trot in his final prep.

The three-year-old son of RC Royalty headlines a field of five, one week before he’s scheduled to contest harness racing’s ultimate prize, the $1.2 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey.

“I’m not looking to empty him out or anything,” said trainer George Ducharme. “If he can win and do it under wraps, then great. But we’re going to give him a shot and let him roll along so he’s prepped for next week.”

Royalty For Life entered the year as one of the most exciting Hambletonian prospects coming off a two-year-old season that saw him win half of his 14 starts with earnings of more than $334,000, including a runner-up finish in the Breeders Crown behind champion Wheeling N Dealin.

But 2013 has not gone according to plan.

Just before he was set to qualify at his Vernon Downs base in early May, an infectious disease outbreak swept through the Central New York track, locking the entire barn area down in a month-long quarantine and leaving Royalty For Life unable to do anything but train.

“I wanted to get a race into him before we raced for the Empire Breeders Classic in June, but I really just had to back off of him then start him up all over again and then the horse was just feeling way too good,” said Ducharme.

In his first race of 2013, Royalty For Life made a break in stride in his Empire Breeders Classic elimination and finished last. He made another break in the Earl Beal eliminations at Pocono Downs three weeks later. He recovered to qualify for the final, but made another break in the final and finished last again.

“I think the one in the Beal final was just a circumstance of where he was positioned that night and got caught in a bad spot,” said Ducharme. “The times before, I really believe he just needed to get racing and get some consistency to his program that we weren’t able to obtain when we were quarantined.”

After an eye-popping qualifying win at the Meadowlands in 1:51.3 and a game 1:52 victory in the Stanley Dancer on July 13, Royalty For Life will represent 'the little guy' when he races on the sport’s biggest stage. It’s been 25 years since a horse stabled at Vernon Downs has won the Hambletonian and the 52-year-old Ducharme has never had a horse this good during his 20-plus years as a trainer.

“This ride’s been great, a little up and down obviously,” said Ducharme, “but this is what we all dream of when we’re kids and we decide to get into horses. “I’m trying to enjoy the ride and prep him and concentrate on him as much as I can.”

Other top three-year-old trotters will be prepping for the Hambletonian this Saturday at the Meadowlands.

The 'Big M' has carded a pair of Three-Year-old Opens, with Hambletonian eligibles Preferred.

The first of the events has been carded as Race 3 and will feature a field of nine. The Ron Burke-trained E L Rocket, a Credit Winner colt that is riding a four-race unbeaten streak, has drawn the rail. The field also includes Bloodstockshalltab, Corky and All Laid Out, among others.

The second of the Three-Year-old Opens (Race 8) will feature a field of nine, which includes both Smilin Eli for trainer David Smith and Wheeling N Dealin for trainer Dustin Jones.

(With files from Vernon Downs)