He's called Royalty For Life. For trainer George Ducharme winning the Breeders Crown juvenile colt trot would be a life changing experience.
For the conditioner who trains a small group of trotters pointed towards the New York Sires Stakes program each year, the Breeders Crown is a pleasant departure from the norm and something he's definitely not taking lightly.
"It would be the best thing that's happened for me in this sport,” Ducharme said.
The reality for Royalty For Life is that he has a fine chance of getting Ducharme and owners Alfred Ross, Raymond Campbell and Paul Fontaine into the winner's circle Saturday night at Woodbine.
The homebred, a result of foal-sharing partnership between Ross' mare Bourbon N Grits and Campbell's stallion R C Royalty, had a 2-year-old season quite similar to his sire in 2012. Royalty For Life was one of the key players in the New York Sires Stakes program setting the table for Ducharme and company to venture to The Red Mile and now to Woodbine.
"It's a long season especially having to race on all of those half-mile tracks in New York,” said Ducharme. "But he's stayed together well and seems really good right now.”
Royalty For Life teamed with Tim Tetrick in Kentucky and surprised many when he upset the highly regarded Dontyouforgetit at The Red Mile in a spirited 1:54.2 mile. The race gave the connections the impetus to head north for the Crown.
Last Friday in the elimination race at Woodbine Royalty For Life finished a solid second behind likely Crown favorite, the undefeated Wheeling And Dealin.
"I think if I do a few things different in that mile I could have beaten that colt,” said Tetrick about his elimination drive.
The trainer took the effort in stride and hopes to see a different style of race this week for the big money. "There are a few more horses in the mix and I think that will help to assure a more honest pace,” said Ducharme referring to the slow opening half Wheeling And Dealin set in the elimination. Royalty For Life drew post nine for the final but moves into post eight with the scratch of Pine Credit and has been tabbed an 8-1 offering in the morning line.
For Ducharme who generally trains homebreds and low priced yearlings the presence on the big stage is a rarity but something he seems to be taking in stride.
He says that Royalty For Life was somewhat of a handful early in his training, but he started to show some maturity and promise at the time stakes payments were due. "He started to develop in March when we had to make the sustaining payments,” said Ducharme about keeping the horse eligible for some major races this year and of course the 2013 Hambletonian.
"He's definitely the best horse I've ever trained,” said Ducharme.
It was in August at Vernon Downs that Royalty For Life did something that surprised and impressed his trainer. "He won in 1:55.4 at Vernon Downs and Jimmy Morrill Jr. came back and said he hadn't even plled the earplugs,” recalled Ducharme.
"I'll tell you the mile he went before the New York Sire Stakes final at Yonkers was most impressive to me. He trotted a mile in 1:58.4 and came his last quarter in :28.2.
While Royalty For Life wears trotting hobbles Ducharme is convinced his well mannered, intelligent colt could go without hopples. "I think that's more about me not wanting him to make breaks trying to leave quickly on the half-mile tracks in New York,” said the trainer. Ironically all of the colt's breaks this season came while leaving the gate.
With seven wins in 13 starts this year heading into Saturday's $600,000 final, Royalty For Life has earned $184,571 this season. While his pedigree on the surface won't draw that much attention, Ducharme said that Bourbon N Grits was a $45,000 yearling purchase for Ross in 2004. So it was clear that the daughter of Donerail who enjoyed a brief racing career, had a decent maternal family as well as being a solid individual.
Seven years ago in October Royalty For Life's sire R C Royalty captured the Valley Victory at Woodbine against the top freshman in North America. On Saturday, the best colt from his second crop on the racetrack, hopes to capture this year's most prestigious race. (Breeders Crown)