Royalty For Life won $1 million Hambletonian final for 3-year-old trotters on Saturday afternoon at The Meadowlands Racetrack.
The winner of the first elimination heat in 1:52 earlier in the day, Royalty For Life came back to capture the final in 1:52 1/5 for his fourth straight win.
It was the Hambo debut for trainer George Ducharme.
Driver Brian Sears had a banner day, winning both the Hambletonian and the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for trotting fillies with Bee A Magician. He also pulled off the same double in 2009, winning the Hambo with Muscle Hill and the Oaks with Broadway Schooner.
“I thought I had an opportunity to have a really good day,” Sears said. “It could also be a bad day, if you don’t have any luck.”
Royalty For Life beat Smilin Eli by 3 1-4 lengths in the final with Corky third.
A rough start to the season for Royalty For Life led to a smooth finish in the sport’s richest race.
Royalty For Life was stuck in quarantine for several weeks in May at Vernon Down when that track was hit with an outbreak of equine herpes virus.
When he got to the races, Royalty For Life couldn’t stay on gait, making breaks in his first three starts.
While concerned about the miscues, Ducharme believed a steady diet of racing was cure for what ailed the Massachusetts-foaled colt.
Turns out Ducharme was right.
“I wasn’t sure we’d get this far,” Ducharme said. “It took a few starts to get going but now he’s back to the horse I thought he’d be.”
Royalty For Life got his first win of the campaign in the Meadowlands’ Stanley Dancer Memorial. From there, the colt was better, stronger and more confident with each subsequent race.
It culminated with a pair of powerful wins on Hambletonian Day.
Starting from the rail in the final, Royalty For Life fired away strongly, forcing Smilin Eli to drop in second.
Spider Blue Chip ranged up to challenge but Sears was sitting confidently.
“My intention was just to get him out on his best foot and get everybody seated,” Sears said. “That’s the way it worked out.”
Royalty For Life improved to 11 for 21 for the New England-based ownership team of Alfred Ross, Raymond Campbell, Jr. and Paul Fontaine.
This was the first time since 1996 that the Hambletonian and the elimination heats were raced on the same day.
Royalty For Life, Creatine and Spider Blue Chip all posted pacesetting wins in the eliminations.
The three heats trimmed the field of 23 down to 10 for the final. The top three finishers in each elimination advanced to the final, along with Dontyouforgetit, the richest fourth-place finisher.
Creatine was the well-rated winner of the second elimination heat in 1:52 4/5 for driver Mike Lachance, trainer Bob Stewart and owners Diamond Creek Racing.
Speed held once again in the final heat as Spider Blue Chip took the third and final elimination in 1:53 4/5. Ron Pierce drove for trainer Chuck Sylvester and owners David Mc Duffee and Melvin Hartman.
One race before the Hambletonian final, the brilliant Bee A Magician continued her perfect season with an Oaks stakes record win.
Sears put Bee A Magician on the lead entering the final turn and she was never in danger. Bee A Magician rolled home by 3 1-4 lengths over Classic Martine. The time was 1:51 4/5, obliterating the old mark of 1:53 by Windylane Hanover in 2002.
“She is a great gaited filly, she’s all race horse and she just does it so easily,” Sears said.
It was the second straight Oaks win for trainer Richard “Nifty” Norman who scored last year at 57-1 with Personal Style.
Melvin Hartman was also in the Oaks winner’s circle for a second straight year. He partnered last year with Brittany Farms as owners of Personal Style.
The winning team behind Bee A Magician is Hartman, Herb Liverman and David Mc Duffee.
In other stakes action on the final day of racing in front of the original grandstand, John Campbell, the track’s all-time leading driver, took home a win in the $213,650 U.S. Pacing Championship with Thinking Out Loud.
The 4-year-old swept past the field for a $49 upset in 1:47 2/5 for trainer Bob McIntosh who is co-owner with C S X Stables and Al McIntosh.
Thinking Out Loud beat Bolt The Duer by 1 3-4 lengths with Golden Receiver third.
On a day when speed dominated, Sevruga went all the way in the $318,350 John Cashman Memorial for Free-For-All trotters.
The 5-year-old gelding rolled to a two-length win over Mister Herbie in the race formerly known as the Nat Ray.
Andy Miller was at the lines for trainer Julie Miller, his wife, and Kdm Stables.
Sevruga got his ninth win in 16 starts this year, improving to 26 for 55 overall. The time was 1:50 4/5.
Mister Herbie rallied for second with Uncle Peter third.
The Cashman and the U.S. Pacing Championship were part of the inaugural TVG Free-For-All Series that culminates with a pair of $500,000 finals on Nov. 30 at The New Meadowlands Racetrack. Both Thinking Out Loud and Sevruga earned 35 qualifying points toward the final.
Shake It Cerry improved to 3 for 3 and lowered the track record for 2-year-old trotting fillies with a 1:53 3/5 win in the $321,700 Merrie Annabelle Final. Shake It Cerry and driver Ron Pierce took charge right from the start and held off Lifetime Pursuit by one length despite drifting out in the lane.
Cee Bee Yes was third.
It was a 1-2 finish for trainer Jimmy Takter as his homebred took home first money.
I Luv The Nitelife kicked off the day by capturing the $125,000 Thomas D’Altrui SBOA Miss New Jersey for 3-year-old pacing fillies with a stakes record 1:49 performance.
I Luv The Nitelife, trained by Chris Ryder and driven by Tim Tetrick, posted her eighth win in nine starts this season. As usual, her margin wasn’t big but she got the job done. I Luv The Nitelife held off Ms Caila J Fra with Authorize third.
It was the second Miss New Jersey win for Ryder, the third for Tetrick. She is owned by Richard & Joanne Young.
Cara McCollum, the newly crowned Miss New Jersey, was on hand to for the trophy presentation.
Lucan Hanover extended his winning streak to four with a 2 1-4 length win in the $250,000 Anthony Abbatiello SBOA New Jersey Classic, the companion event for 3-year-olds.
David Miller drove for trainer Casie Coleman and owners West Wins Stable and Christine Calhoun. Lucan Hanover improved to 7 for 14 with the win in 1:48 3/5.
D’Orsay pulled off a 17-1 upset, and equaled the world record for a 4-year-old trotting mare on a mile track in the $55,000 Ima Lula final.
She beat Personal Style by 3 3-4 lengths in 1:51 4/5 for driver Corey Callahan, trainer Jonas Czernyson and the Consus Racing Stable.
Check Me Out was third.
Callahan pulled a more modest upset in the $217,100 Lady Liberty Free-For-All for pacing mares, winning at 4-1 with Drop The Ball.
She edged past a determined Anndrovette by three quarters of a length in 1:49 with Rocklamation third.
Drop The Ball, trained by Ross Croghan, won for the 19th time in 44 starts.
Father Patrick won a spirited battle with Nuncio to take the $280,500 Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old trotters by 10 commanding lengths over Nuncio in 1:54 1/5.
The colt driven by Yannick Gingras and trained by Jimmy Takter for the Father Patrick Stable won for the third time in four starts
Southwind Spirit was third.
Little Brown Fox held off a host of challengers to win the $75,000 Vincennes Free For All trot in 1:53 3/5. The 4-year-old driven by Sears for Takter improved to 12 for 40. He prevailed by a half length over From Above with the mare Beatgoeson Hanover third.
The 15-race card before 24,210 was the final harness program before the grandstand that witnessed so much standardbred history.
The new era begins Nov. 23 at The New Meadowlands Racetrack under construction along the backstretch.
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