Day At The Track

Royalty For Life racing in Hambo for Massachusetts

04:37 PM 29 Jul 2013 NZST
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Royalty For Life carries the state of Massachusetts into the Hambletonian
Royalty For Life carries the state of Massachusetts into the Hambletonian

As Royalty For Life chases Hambletonian glory, he carries with him the hopes of the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts, from South Dartmouth to Belchertown, from the Cape to the Berkshires.

More important, he is also validating the vision of the state legislature.

A dozen years ago, at the dawn of a new century, the Massachusetts Sire Stake program was moribund. Twice in a span of eleven years the track at Foxboro, which was the only racing venue in the state, had closed its doors. In both cases it was several years before racing resumed in the commonwealth.

In 1999, Plainridge Racecourse rose from the ashes of that rubble, offering the local horsemen a racing venue for a hundred days a year.Stables that are structured around overnight horses can live three or four days at a time – no matter how inconvenient it might be there is always a draw taking place somewhere. But breeders, the backbone of the harness racing industry,the element which literally, as well as figuratively, pumps new blood into iton an annual basis and perpetuates its growth must take a longer view. Those investors can't live condition sheet to condition sheet.

In 2001, with three seasons in the book at the new track,the Massachusetts legislature crafted an omnibus racing bill. Recognizing the commitment of Plainridge and its horsemen, the lawmakers sought to strengthen the state’s Standardbred breeding program, an initial step on the path towards stability for the harness racing industry.

Focusing on mares rather than stallions, the new regulation allowed harness breeders access to any stallion, any where - with  the caveat that the mare had to foal in Massachusetts,thus offering that traditional support for the state’s agricultural industry.This change allowed owners of mares to breed to the highest quality stallions,if they chose to, and at least in theory to increase the quality of the local breeding program's product. In essence, what had been a sire stake program became a futurity, and the focus on mares allowed more people to participate, returning harness racing to its more democratic roots.

Within two years, a product of the restructured program,RC Royalty, made appearances in the Breeders Crown, as both a two and a three year old. Bred by Chip Campbell of Belchertown, the son of Credit Winner raced in the Massachusetts program, but is much better known for his appearances in events such as the Hambletonian.

Now, his son  Royalty For Life, repeats his father's story.While he was sired in New York, he is a product of the Massachusetts breeding program, bred by Al Ross of South Dartmouth, along with Chip Campbell and Paul Fontaine, and is considered among the pre-race favorites in the Hambletonian. It only seems appropriate that a horse bred in a state known for its “City of Champions,”competes in the “Super Bowl of trotting.”

Might there be more Royalty For Life’s in the years tocome? Perhaps. With expanded gaming on the horizon in Massachusetts, the breeding program in the state has caught they eye of at least a couple of other successful owners whoare no strangers to the sport’s limelight.

During the past couple of breeding seasons the powerful Lindy Farms, owner of such notable horses as Hambletonian competitor Crazed, has sent mares to the Bay State. There have even been inklings that the farm, located in nearby Enfield,Connecticut, might eventually build a wing in a Massachusetts locale. Bill Varney, who has demonstrated success in sire stake programs in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maine and Canada has also sent mares to Massachusetts during the past two seasons,with an eye toward the future. “It looked like an opportunity close to home,”said Varney, who hails from Bangor, Maine, noting that the monies he pays to farms, veterinarians and blacksmiths all contribute to the Bay State’s economy.

A little over a decade ago a proactive legislature tookthat first step, and the local sire stake program has grown. Still, the Massachusetts harness racing industry remains at a crossroads. While that expanded gaming seen on the horizon potentially gets a bit closer everyday, how much of that revenue willfind its way to the industry is an open question. The answer to that questionwill decide if Royalty For Life – a Massachusetts eligible racing in the sport’s premier event - is merely an exception, or if in the future, locally bred horses of that caliber in events such as the Hambletonian might become the rule.

by Robert Lieberman


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