George Ducharme's plans for stakes-winning trotter Royalty For Life are in limbo. The trainer is stabled at Vernon Downs, which is under quarantine since a case of Equine Herpes Virus-1 was diagnosed there on May 4.
Royalty For Life, a 3-year-old colt who won seven of 14 races last season and earned $334,588 for owners Alfred Ross, Raymond Campbell Jr. and Paul Fontaine, is being pointed toward the first round of the New York Sires Stakes on May 24 and Empire Breeders Classic (eliminations May 31; final June 7). Both races are scheduled for Vernon Downs.
"We're sort of on hold right now,” Ducharme said. "We're under lockdown now with no horses coming in or out. We're waiting to see what happens with the sire stakes and the Empire Breeders, but these things are out of our control. Those were going to be his first races and we were happy we wouldn't have to travel to start the year.”
Royalty For Life qualified in 1:54.1 at Vernon Downs on May 3 with Chris Lems driving. Lems was among six drivers to sit behind the colt last year, along with Tim Tetrick, Jason Bartlett, Jim Morrill Jr., John Campbell and Wally Hennessey.
"He's been good training down,” Ducharme said. "I thought he would go in (1):55, but he did it handy and finished good and strong, which is what I was looking for.”
Live racing at Vernon Downs was canceled May 4 as the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, the State Gaming Commission and track management work to assess and contain the outbreak. Thursday's card has also been canceled. Racing has been approved to resume Friday, using only horses that are stabled on the grounds.
Last season, Royalty For Life won a division of the International Stallion Stakes by one length over Dontyouforgetit in 1:54.2. He also won five times on the New York circuit and finished second to Wheeling N Dealin in the Breeders Crown. Except for three times when he went off stride on half-mile tracks, Royalty For Life never finished worse than third.
"I was real happy with him,” Ducharme said. "He was a little inconsistent, but I think getting on the big tracks really helped him. He just couldn't hold his speed going into the turns on the half-mile tracks sometimes. But he had a real good year. I can't complain about the Breeders Crown; he just got beat by a really good horse.”
Royalty For Life is the result of a foal-sharing partnership between Ross' mare Bourbon ‘N Grits and Campbell's stallion RC Royalty. Bourbon ‘N Grits is a half-sister to Text Winner, who won the Matron Stakes for 2-year-old male trotters last season. RC Royalty was the 2005 Valley Victory winner and New York Sires Stakes champ.
The stakes schedule this year for Royalty For Life includes the Hambletonian, Breeders Crown, Earl Beal Jr. Memorial, Colonial, Stanley Dancer and Oliver.
"I think it will be a pretty rugged division as we go through the year,” Ducharme said. "But I think (Royalty For Life) should be able to hold his own.” (with files from HRC)