8/3/2013 5:15 PM
By By Tom Canavan AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Driver Brian Sears is turning the Hambletonian in a doubleheader of sorts.
For the second time in five years, Sears swept the two biggest races for 3-years trotters, capturing the $1.2 million Hambletonian with Royalty For Life and the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks with Bee A Magician on Saturday at the Meadowlands Racetrack.
"I thought I had an opportunity to have a really good day," said Sears, who also accomplished the Hambo double in 2009 with Muscle Hill in the Hambletonian and Broadway Schooner in the Oaks. "''But it also could be a really bad day if you don't have any luck. Things can just go wrong."
Things went perfectly in both races, especially after the 45-year-old Sears put his 3-year-olds on the lead early.
Speed was gold Saturday and once Sears had the lead in both the Hambletonian and Oaks, he was never threatened.
This was a special Hambletonian. It marked the final time the old Meadowlands Racetrack played host to trotting's elite - a new building will open in November, and it was the first time since 1996 that the Hambletonian was raced in same-day heats.
Royalty For Life, who recently won the Stanley Dancer Memorial here, had no problem with the heats. The son of RC Royalty cruised to victory in the first heat and won the final by 3¼ lengths over Smilin Eli in 1:52 1/5, a fifth of a second slower than his heat. The George Ducharme-trained colt paid $3.60. $3.40 and $2.60.
"I feel a lot better, the pressure is off," Ducharme said after Royalty For Life won his fourth straight races after starting off the year winless in three starts. "I thought he came out of the elimination really good, I was real happy with it, and when he drew the rail I really didn't think that'd be a problem I thought it'd be a benefit and that's the way it worked out."
Royalty For Life won despite missing a month of action earlier this year with an illness.
"It was a little frustrating but the owners stuck by me and let me figure a few things out and it benefited all of us," said Ducharme, who solved a breaking problem that Royalty For Life had early in the year.
"He has settled into a groove pretty good," Sears added. "He is a big strong horse and he likes to race. He needed a few more starts, consistency and that's why I thought he would fare well with the two heats."
Smilin Eli returned $7.60 and $4.80, while Corky was third and paid $4.40 for show.
The other heat winners weren't close. Spider Blue Chip, who was trying to give trainer Chuck Sylvester a record-tying fifth win in the Hambletonian, was fifth in the final, while Creatine was eighth.
The win with Royalty For Life came less than 30 minutes after Bee A Magician remained perfect in nine starts by also scoring a 3¼-length victory over Classic Martine in a stakes record time of 1:51 4/5. The R. 'Nifty' Norman-trained filly returned $2.40, $2.10 and $2.10 in breaking the old record of 1:53 set by Windylane Hanover in 2002.
"She gets off the ground so easy. And as a chaser that's pretty big, I knew there were some horses on my back but she overcame it and everything worked out," said Sears, who politely declined to predict who would win a match race between Royalty For Life and Bee A Magician.
The 15-race card featured five other stakes races.
Shake It Cerry ($5) won the $321,700 Merrie Annabelle for 2-year-old trotting fillies; Father Patrick ($4.80) won the $280,500 Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old trotting colts and geldings; Sevruga (21.60) won the $318,350 John Cashman Memorial free-for-all trot formerly known as the Nat Ray; Lucan Hanover ($13.60) won the $250,000 Anthony Abbatiello New Jersey Classic for New Jersey sired 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings; and Thinking Out Loud ($49) won the $213,650 US Pacing Championship final for all ages.