06/24/2013 11:30AM

Pocono: Ducharme hoping it all comes together for Royalty For Life in Beal Final

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Royalty For Life trotted a 27 1/5 final quarter in his Earl Beal Memorial elimination.

Having a game plan is essential to succeeding in the three-year-old trotting ranks. Trainer George Ducharme entered 2013 with a solid schedule for one of this year’s Hambletonian contenders, Royalty For Life.

That plan was blown to bits, not because of Ducharme’s lack of attention to detail, but from outside forces.

“I’m stabled at Vernon Downs,” said Ducharme, “Because of the EHV-1 virus we couldn’t ship out or in and some of the races got cancelled.”

One of those races was a New York Sire Stakes event, a race that Ducharme was aiming for with Royalty For Life. With that race missed, Royalty For Life entered the eliminations for the Empire Breeders Classic at Vernon off of three qualifiers but no actual races.

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“He came back so good and so strong, we needed something to take the edge off of him,” said Ducharme. That edge didn’t come off in his first start on June 2 when the colt made a break in stride and never qualified for the final.

Royalty For Life came back five days later and put in a brilliant qualifying mile at the Meadowlands in 1:53 1/5 with an eye set on the Earl Beal Memorial eliminations this past Saturday evening at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

Again to Ducharme’s disappointment, Royalty For Life would make a miscue before the quarter pole in his Beal elimination. Yet this time the colt would do something that was more than unexpected, it was near impossible.

Over a track that saw horses positioned in the top three routinely finish in the money and those coming from the back figuratively spinning their wheels with no traction, Royalty For Life not only recovered from the break, but he miraculously passed all but one horse, race winner Corky, in a 1:52 4/5 mile.

“It was impressive,” said Ducharme, “He trotted his last half in :54 after the break.”

That says something about the extraordinarily gifted colt. Yet at the same time with two breaks in two pari-mutuel starts this year, the jury remains out on what to expect next.

Ducharme, who has been in the business for 30 years and has never had a horse of this ability, is confident there are no physical problems. What he sees is a horse that is essentially too hyped up in the races and just wants to go too fast when called upon.

“Tim (driver Tetrick) told me that he felt that Miller (driver Dave behind Corky) was slowing the pace down a bit too much and he wanted to get to the front,” said Ducharme. Unfortunately Royalty For Life didn’t shift gears very smoothly and lost his stride.

Though Royalty For Life had 14 starts last year and was one of the best juveniles in training, finishing second at year’s end in the Breeders Crown, Ducharme finds himself hoping that the horse will come to terms with the speed and style of the three-year-old races.

“It really has nothing to do with training him or racing in qualifiers,” said Ducharme, “It’s different when there’s competition out there.”

With Royalty For Life in the final, Ducharme and owners Alfred Ross, William Campbell and Paul Fontaine may have to find a new driver should Tim Tetrick opt for the undefeated Smilin Eli in the $500,000 final on Saturday (June 29).

Ducharme hadn’t heard from Tetrick on Sunday, but he said that the owners have already begun discussing their options.

Last year Royalty For Life won seven of those 14 starts and made breaks on just three occasions. He was most impressive winning in 1:54 2/5 at Lexington’s famed Red Mile, then fought tooth and nail with Breeders Crown champion Wheeling and Dealin, finishing second by less than a length in both elimination and final.

This year Royalty For Life is bigger and stronger. After Saturday night’s sensational performance, we can also affirm that he’s much faster as well.

“He just doesn’t know how to handle the speed yet,” said Ducharme.

With schedule mishaps behind him, Ducharme has opted to stay off the New York Sire Stakes circuit for now.

“We’re going with the Grand Circuit races through the Hambletonian,” said Ducharme. The Stanley Dancer Memorial at the Meadowlands on July 13 is the next major test after the Beal Memorial.

As for the competition, Saturday’s Beal eliminations proved that many in this crop are capable of trotting  sub-1:53 speed. However, Smilin Eli, the Muscles Yankee-sired colt that Tim Tetrick guided to his fourth straight career victory, seems the most advanced. He blasted to the quarter in :26 3/5 from post eight and never looked back. The Deshawn Minor-trained homebred of Nick Cimino dominated Beal elimination winner Corky in the New Jersey Sire Stakes.

The Jimmy Takter-trained Dontyouforgetit trotted in 1:52 1/5, the fastest of the three Beal eliminations, but he didn’t need to do much work sitting a perfect pocket trip off of dueling leaders and getting up late for driver Yannick Gingras. Dontyouforgetit appears to do his best racing while chasing horses, winning his last three from off the pace after losing his first two while cutting the mile.

While Royalty For Life may be a bit behind some three-year-olds in the manners department, his speed is unquestioned. At this point in the season there is an extremely short list of consistent and fast sophomore trotters. Jurgen Hanover, a much-improved son of Credit Winner, looked to be breaking into the top rung until Saturday when he failed to fire for the first time in eight 2013 starts. In the trotting game there are a million and one reasons why a horse didn’t perform as expected, so there’s reason to believe we’ll be hearing from “Jurgen” again in the near future.

For now, Saturday’s Beal sets the stage for some of the Hambletonian contenders. For George Ducharme, the hope is that Royalty For Life has had some of the edge taken off and will mind his manners the same way he did throughout much of his freshman campaign.

 

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