While most participants in the sport are focusing on what is transpiring in The Garden State prior to the Breeders Crown, George Ducharme and Chris Lems were hard at work in The Bay State. The fruits of their labors were rewarded, as the duo collected all four $75,000 Massachusetts Sires Stakes trotting contests on Monday at Plainridge Park.
"We have had some good days before back here at home, but never a day quite like that," Ducharme said. "With the infusion of the slots money into purses it has really helped us. The sire stakes races were only worth about half that last year. Even the overnights have gone up from $6,000 to $12,000 and it really helps out. There are a lot of people here that were just hanging on, waiting for this. Of course you will have some other people bringing horses in, but it's good to see the people that stuck with it getting a little bit of money in their pocket."
Ducharme and Lems joined forces to meet in the winner's circle with Onangelwings (Archangel-Anotherpennyplease) in the 2-year-old filly trot, Muscles Jared (Muscle Massive-Tetiana) in the 2-year-old colt and gelding trot, Do What You Dream (Conway Hall-Ksenia) in the 3-year-old colt and gelding trot and Royal Right (RC Royalty-Contrarian) in the 3-year-old filly trot.
"A lot of my owners like to breed and race their own horses in their home state," Ducharme said. "Our horses fit very well in these events and we always support racing here."
While the names, speed records and other stakes accomplishments may not jump off the pages of these state champions, there is one in the bunch that nearly punched Ducharme's ticket to this weekend's Breeders Crown events in Muscles Jared.
Bred by Al Libfeld, the gelding is owned by Alfred Ross. In addition to his newly acquired crown, Muscles Jared has the distinction of coming first-over during Walner's world record performance (1:51.3) in a $56,000 division of the International Stallion Stakes on Oct. 6 in Lexington. Steered by John Campbell on that day, the gelding came home fifth directly behind Breeders Crown elimination victor Sortie after an adventurous trip over the Red Mile oval.
"He was second in his first race down in Lexington," Ducharme said. "And I was happy how the horse performed in that race against Walner. He was first-over and then was used about three times. We thought about taking him to the Breeders Crown, but brought him here (Plainridge) instead to give him a little bit easier race and have a good chance to win rather than hoping to finish fourth or fifth. It was easier on him, but it was not easy as Andy Miller brought one (Big Man Ev, second) and (Frank) Antonacci brought one (French Moni, fourth).
"He's done for the year now. He's the kind of horse we think needs to be turned out to give him some time to grow into his frame. When we bring him back next year though, he will be staked to everything, because we think once he grows he will be able to keep up and compete with those horses. We'll wait on the Breeders Crown this year and point towards next year."
Muscles Jared embarks on his vacation with $150,856 in the bank and a resume of 11-5-2-0. He was also fourth in the $252,000 Pennsylvania Sires Stakes championship behind Breeders Crown participants Giveitgasango and Moonshiner Hanover.
Ducharme also holds out optimism the Massachusetts program will be on the upswing yet again in 2017.
"I don't have my finger on the pulse quite as much as I used to now that I stable most of the time in New York," he said. "But it is my understanding the state is looking to revisit the amount of revenue Standardbred horsemen receive at the end of the year. Horsemen in Massachusetts receive nine percent, but up until this year Standardbred horsemen received 25 percent of that while Thoroughbreds received 75 percent. Suffolk closed two years ago and there has been no Thoroughbred racing, so this year their percentage was changed to 55 percent.
"The state plans on reviewing how the extra money for the Standardbreds is used to improve the communities rather than seeing other people come in just for increased purses. Hopefully, they will approve more money coming to Standardbreds and our stakes will be worth even more next year." (Kim French for USTA)