EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Massachusetts is home to the king of harness racing.
Royalty For Life, born in Massachusetts, won the 88th Hambletonian in a time of 1:52.4 at the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey on Saturday.
The race was the 3-year-old colt’s fourth consecutive win, but it was the most significant of trainer George Ducharme’s career.
“Words can’t describe what this means to me, I never ever thought that I’d be at this spot being a little guy from Massachusetts training a bunch of homebreds and the fact it turned out to be like this is just amazing,” said Ducharme, who is from Norfolk and trains horses at a farm in Plainville.
Driver Brian Sears put Royalty For Life into the lead after a quick quarter-mile time of 26.2. He cited the wind at the racetrack for the quick start.
“The wind is funny here and it pushes out toward the course and you could roll them [the horses] out there and use them really hard first quarter and they wouldn’t even know it.”
Ducharme said after the first elimination Royalty For Life didn’t need to get off to a fast start, but the 3-year-old colt never gave the field a chance, winning by 3 1/4 lengths.
Smilin Eli threatened the Hambletonian champ at the half-mile mark, trying to make a move outside, but the Royalty For Life held off the challenge and finished the final half mile without any threats. Smilin Eli finished second.
“He had the better horse,” Smilin Eli driver Tim Tetrick said. “I felt like I got all I could get (from Smilin Eli).”
It was an eventful day in the sulky for Sears, who also won the Hambletonian Oaks with Bee A Magician before guiding Royalty For Life to the winner’s circle.
It was the second time that Sears completed the Hambletonian double. He first did it in 2009.
Alfred Ross, one of Royalty For Life’s owners who lives in South Dartmouth, Mass., was presented with the Hambletonian trophy by New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who attended in part because one of the races on the Meadowlands card was named for his father.
“I’m accepting this on behalf of the Boston Red Sox,” Ross quipped.