07/23/2015 11:06PM

Vernon: Ducharme taking a shot with Zweig longshots

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Derick Giwner
Concentration winning at The Red Mile as a 2-year-old.

Two years ago George Ducharme was in an enviable position. The trainer had captured the prestigious Hambletonian with Royalty For Life and came to Ducharme’s home track at Vernon Downs to compete and eventually capture the Zweig Memorial. This year Ducharme may be more of an outsider looking in as the trainer sends out longshot Wings Of Royalty.

“He’s been better the last few starts so we’re going to give it a shot,” said Ducharme of his decision to enter the New York-bred in Sunday’s $370,000 event for 3-year-old trotters.

After winning $126,672 as a 2-year-old racing primarily on the New York Sire Stakes circuit, the homebred of owner Raymond Campbell Jr. has gotten off to a slow start in 2015.

[VERNON DOWNS: Watch the top 3-year-old trotters in the Zweig--Live on DRF!]

“We’ve had a few things we’ve had to work on with him, but I think the last few starts he’s been more like himself,” said Ducharme.

While Royalty For Life catapulted Ducharme to prominence in the trotting sport, the conditioner has no grand allusions of Wings Of Royalty being in the same class, despite both being sons of R C Royalty.

“He doesn’t have the speed that Royalty For Life had,” Ducharme said bluntly.

But Wings Of Royalty does have speed and manners, which can go a long way towards earning a healthy living in this rugged division.

Ducharme knows he’s not alone in the field, with Wings Of Royalty starting from post six in the field of nine and trainer Jimmy Takter dominating the entry box with four high caliber horses.

Leading the Takter arsenal is Pinkman. The Pennsylvania-bred son of Explosive Matter has won five of his six starts this year including back-to-back Grand Circuit events—the $500,000 Beal (July 4) and the Stanley Dancer (July 18)—in gutsy fashion. Pinkman starts from post seven with Yannick Gingras aboard.

Joining Pinkman will be Beal runner-up Uncle Lasse from post four. Already a winner in 1:51 4/5 this year at The Meadows, the brother to last year’s champion sophomore filly Shake It Cerry has the driving services of Brett Miller.

Canepa Hanover rounds out the Takter trio with sub 1:52 victories in 2015. The impeccably bred son of Muscle Hill has been somewhat of a project for the trainer, but there’s little doubt he has speed to burn. Canepa Hanover drew post five.

Brian Sears guided Royalty For Life to victory in the 2013 Zweig and once again he’ll have an outside draw in this year’s edition with Habitat, an improving colt from the Burke stable. Habit landed post eight but enters the race in great shape. Second behind stablemate Crazy Wow in the 1:51 1/5 Empire Breeders Classic final at Vernon on June 21, Habitat scored a career best 1:53 victory in the Beal consolation and then was just a neck behind Pinkman in last week’s Dancer division at the Meadowlands.

The Zweig is race nine of a dozen on the Sunday afternoon program (first post 1:15 p.m.). The filly companion event goes as race six with $185,000 up for grabs and it marks the first non-New Jersey race of 2015 for Mission Brief. Last year’s brilliant juvenile trotting miss has slowly grinded her way into peak form and that’s good news for the Burke stable, and equally tough on the competition. Mission Brief drew post five in the nine-filly field where Ducharme again will be represented.

“We took a shot with her,” said Ducharme of Concentration, a New York-bred filly by Conway Hall. “When she trotted in 1:54 last year in Lexington we decided to stake her a little more this year.”

Concentration won five times in 11 starts during her freshman campaign but has only hit the board once in six starts this year, a victory on May 23 in a New York Sire Stakes event at Vernon.

Concentration was most recently fourth in New York Sire Stakes action at Buffalo. She drew post two.

Ducharme’s stable is concentrating primarily in New York and he believes he has some promising freshman that could hopefully become Grand Circuit contenders. Another son of R C Royalty, Reve Royale has already captured two New York Sire Stakes events in his first two career starts including a 1:59 4/5 impressive outing over the half-miler at Saratoga Harness.

“He’s been a very good sire with not the best caliber of mares,” said Ducharme. “They all get over the half-mile track very well.”