Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hambletonian handed ‘Royal’ flush

After the smoke cleared, the best horse, Royalty For Life, ruled the 2013 Hambletonian Trail’s destination. The son of RC Royalty, a contemporary producer of some note, produced two sterling miles on Aug. 3 to win his elimination heat and the final with ease. In doing so, certain retribution was performed for his bloodline. His sire was nowhere near a Hambletonian field; his sire’s sire, Credit Winner (sire of RC Royalty) made history elsewhere; and his dam sire, Donerail, was a major contender that eventually wore badly from illness the same year that Credit Winner finished second in the August classic. 
Royalty For Life won the major prep the Stanley Dancer Memorial, and came into the Hambletonian as a fast and fit entry, which attracted the support of bettors in his heat and the final. If there was any doubt before the elim heat that day, where the colt won from post 8 no less without a glitch, the final portrayed his dominance. 
We should not forget, though, that there was plenty of doubt leading to the heats, even though there were warning signs everywhere that prove hindsight is 20-20. The headlining cast of 23 dropped in the box, creating a trio of elims, had fraught sophomore histories. 
Smilin Eli was a fan favorite before he tanked from post 9 at Pocono and found himself in an imbroglio over his connections. He was scratched from the Stanley Dancer and placed under investigation by the racing commission. 
Aperfectyankee was the early choice to peak at three when he championed the Peter Haughton at two. His return to the races at three was sublime and he carried the bad record of “Haughton” winners drinking from the famed Hambletonian bowl.
Dontyouforgetit began the soph season with high hopes but his coordination was poor and he jumped too often to prove he was in the top tier. As well, trainer Jimmy Takter told reporters that he was concerned that the colt was so small compared to others in the crop and when Jimmy began to drive, even as the colt managed to stay flat, bettors believed it was due to lack of confidence. When he broke twice in the Yonkers Trot, even his remarkable comeback to finish fourth and his earnings that made him the “other” candidate for the final, were enough to feature him prominently in the event.
Certainly not last nor least is Wheeling N Dealin, who brought a pluperfect record at two into his sophomore season, only to quail expectations with a few losses that made him appear a mere shadow of his 2012 self. No one could have predicted, even as he wandered into contention with a second in the elim, he would go off in the final at 43-1 (higher than even Dontyouforgetit). It was far more than post 10 in the final that generated those odds. 
Royalty For Life experienced no drama at three; he approached the first Saturday in August with a reputation as spotless as a healthy lung. Everyone knew he was good, mind you, but no one in my ear range certified him the clear-and-present strongman of the group. It was not like the drones of past classics, where press and public duly annotated Muscle Hill, Donato Hanover and even Scarlet Knight. Though Royalty For Life did not win under the radar (he was 4-5), the forecasts were not nearly as inviolable as many that have gone on to dominate final fields.  
Much like the cardsharp who surreptitiously studies the expressions and gestures of opponents around the big-stakes table, meeting the wagering requirements until he can call the hand no one thought he had which beats them all, Royalty For Life came on the Hambletonian scene with a halcyon record and gracefully showed his winning hand.
Read race archives from the Hambletonian Trail at the special section archived at the Hambletonian Society web site.
Stay tuned for the Breeders Crown Countdown blog for updates and races involving eligibles leading to the series elims and finals at Pocono Downs, including live coverage from TwinSpires on both racing days.

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