When trotter Wings Of Royalty was preparing for this season, trainer George Ducharme thought the 4 year old was acting better than at any time during his previous two campaigns. After watching the stallion nip multiple-award-winner Pinkman by a nose last Friday at the Meadowlands, Ducharme is starting to think it is more than just an act.
Wings Of Royalty is 2-for-2 this year after his career-best 1:51.4 win last weekend at the Big M. On Saturday he returns to action in the first round of the Graduate Series at the Meadowlands. The Graduate Series, which features three preliminary rounds and a $250,000-guaranteed final, is restricted to 4 year olds.
"I was very happy with the way the horse trained back," Ducharme said. "He was out for three months (during the winter) and really physically changed. He just got bigger and stronger.
"Training down, he acted a lot better than he had at any time during his 2- or 3-year-old year. I wasn't sure how much he would improve speed-wise, but after the other night I think there's still a little room. Hopefully he can improve a little more, which he will have to do to go with the company he's going to be in with."
A total of 13 horses entered Saturday's Graduate opener. Wings Of Royalty and driver Corey Callahan will start from post one in the first of two $50,000 divisions. The remainder of the field is Whataworkout, Canepa Hanover, Honor And Serve, Homicide Hunter, and Crazshana.
The second division features Pinkman--a divisional Dan Patch Award winner at ages 2 and 3--as well as two 9-for-9 horses this season, Canadian-based Musical Rhythm and Maestro Blue Chip. The rest of the group is Crescent Fashion, Fashion Creditor, Centurion ATM, and Crazy Wow.
Subsequent preliminary rounds of the Graduate Series will be held June 4 at Mohawk Racetrack and June 12 at Tioga Downs. The final is July 9 at the Meadowlands.
Wings Of Royalty has won 12 of 32 career races and earned $417,645 for breeder/owner Raymond "Chip" Campbell Jr. A Massachusetts resident, Campbell also bred and owns Wings Of Royalty's sire, stakes-winner RC Royalty, and owned Wings Of Royalty's dam, Sparkling Cider, for more than a decade.
RC Royalty also sired 2013 Hambletonian winner Royalty For Life, who was trained by Ducharme and co-owned by Campbell. The maternal family includes 1990 Hambletonian winner Harmonious and Wings Of Royalty's fourth dam, Egyptian Jody, also is the fourth dam of recently retired star female trotter Maven.
"Sparkling Cider came from a very nice family," Campbell said. "She really elevated the group of mares that I had at the time. We take pride in (breeding horses). My wife and kids are involved and my parents also before my father passed away. So you do take great pride in being able to breed them, foal them out, raise them, and then have them go off and compete with the best."
Wings Of Royalty last year won eight of 20 races and hit the board a total of 15 times. He won the Massachusetts Sire Stakes championship and, thanks to dual eligibility, finished second to Habitat in the New York Sire Stakes championship. He finished fifth in his elimination for the Hambletonian and 10th in the same-day final (won by Pinkman) after drawing post nine. He finished fourth in the Zweig Memorial.
"He was a good horse last year; he just was always it seems a step behind the top ones," Ducharme said. "He really impressed me the other night, coming from off the pace and everything. I'm hoping he can hang with those horses this year.
"We just paid him into the 4-year-old events, so hopefully he'll be competitive in there and we can see what the future holds after that. After the other night I'm thinking he could turn into the horse that I hoped he would. I'm looking forward to it."
Campbell said the plan is to race Wings Of Royalty for at least this season and next year.
"We thought we better look at it as a two-year program; 4 and 5 year old," Campbell said. "We understand how big the step is at 4. We didn't know if he was going to be able to get up two or three more notches, which he was going to have to in order to compete with the best.
"Part of our schedule was not a mile like (1:51.4) in May," he added with a laugh. "He more than fulfilled any expectations we had on that night. That mile certainly impressed us enough to give it a shot against a very nice group (this weekend). We hope the horse puts on a good performance.
"This game can give you a lot of thrills. If we could ever figure out how to put it in a bottle--yeah, there are ups and downs--but the ups are thrills that are difficult to get anywhere else."
Saturday's card at the Meadowlands also includes the first round of the Graduate Series for 4-year-old pacers and the first leg of the New Jersey Sires Stakes for 3-year-old male and female pacers. (HRC)