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George Ducharme really is harness racing's 'Good Guy'
Friday, March 14, 2014 - by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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Rich Fisher
Trenton, NJ --- During a 2013 season in which he scaled new heights of fame and fortune, George Ducharme remained the same class act that he was while kicking around during the early part of his career.

His efforts won him the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s W.R. Haughton Good Guy Award for how gracious he was with the media, which made constant demands of his time considering he had the Hambletonian champion in Royalty For Life.

His obliging demeanor wasn’t forced. It’s just who George is.

USTA photo
George Ducharme won the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s W.R. Haughton Good Guy Award in 2013.

“I was brought up that way, to treat people kindly, to be nice to them,” Ducharme said from his Massachusetts home. “Especially being older, being 50. It’s a lot different than being younger. You’ve got more patience, and you have to realize you may never have a chance to do this again. You should embrace it as well as you can, hopefully it will continue and you just continue to treat people well.

“One thing about this sport, you’re on top one day and on the bottom quickly. You can never forget how it changes. You better be nice and treat people the way you want to be treated. I feel everyone deserves your respect.”

Ducharme, whose stable earned a career-best $1.62 million last year, has seen the ups-and-downs of the business first hand.

After winning the Hambo and Canadian Trotting Classic in 2013, Royalty For Life received the Dan Patch Award for the best 3-year-old male trotter.

But the season ended on a down note when he was scratched from the Breeders Crown due to a bone chip in the knee. It’s an injury that will keep the horse sidelined at least until the summer as Ducharme works to get him back in shape at Plainridge Racecourse in Massachusetts.

“He just got back this past week; he’s been jogging about a week,” the trainer said. “We operated, took the chip out and the surgeon wanted him to have four months off. He’s just started back last week.

Lisa photo
Royalty For Life captured the 2013 Hambletonian with Brian Sears driving for trainer George Ducharme.

“He looks great, he’s jogging really good, I’m happy with how he looks. I’ll let him tell us when he can come back. Hopefully he makes it back for the 4-year-old (Hambletonian) Maturity in July. That’s our goal for the first race. He won’t be ready before that. If everything goes right we plan on qualifying in the middle of June.”

Ducharme was disappointed having to scratch the horse last year in the Breeders Crown, but never gave it a second thought.

“It was such a great ride, but the horse owed us nothing,” said Ducharme, who trains Royalty For Life for owners Al Ross, Ray Campbell, Jr. and Paul Fontaine. “So to have him go out there and make us look bad or hurt himself further, that wouldn’t have helped anyone. This business is a rollercoaster, for sure.”

And Ducharme has been riding it for a long time.

His family owned horses at Foxboro Raceway in the early 1970s and that quickly drew young George’s interest.

“I went to the races all the time,” he said. “I started kicking around the barn. The next thing you knew, I got out of high school and decided this is the career I wanted to do, and I took it from there.

“That’s why I’ve stayed around home. I really enjoy the young horses. There weren’t a lot of people in the area doing it and I got some owners who helped me out.”

He started as a groom at Foxboro with Greg MacDonald, and as a trainer he never had too much difficulty getting horses to work with.

“I’ve had horses with Raymond Campbell since the mid-1980s; he had mostly homebreds,” Ducharme said. “Then I got hooked up with Paul Fontaine, when he was at that level with No No Yankee. He wanted to step up and we became associated. Through Paul, I met Al Ross and stepped right in there and it’s taken off from there.”

It took a while to take off, however.

“We kicked around here in Massachusetts for a while with Foxboro closed,” Ducharme said. “It was a rough ride for a while, but we hung through it and stuck with it and everything came around.”

Although he exploded on the national scene last year, George has produced a good stable of quality horses over the years, including Donttellmywife, Penny Dream, A Penny Earned and Four Damsals. He has also had success with young horses in both the New York and Massachusetts sire stakes programs.

Through it all, he has never gotten the urge to move into harness racing hotbeds out of respect to his wife Marge, and sons George and Jake.

“It’s quiet around here; it’s nice,” he said. “I wasn’t uprooting my family to chase horses around. I wanted to make sure they had a foundation, and everything has worked out great.”

With time to let last season soak in, Ducharme has been able to appreciate its magnitude.

“Sitting back on it I can reflect and think about how great it’s really been,” he said. “At the time it’s a whirlwind, you’re just getting ready for the next race. But sitting back and thinking about winning the biggest race in our sport and it’s a pretty amazing feeling.”

It’s back to business this year as he works to get Royalty For Life on the track. He also has 15 2-year-olds -- mostly New York breds with a few Pennsylvania breds mixed in -- and some 3-year-olds that are mostly New York Sire Stakes horses.

“They’re not able to compete at the stakes level,” he said. “We’ll concentrate on them and get what money we can, and hopefully some of the 2-year-olds will come along.”

Although he’s in his fourth decade of training, George sees no end in sight with George Jr. in college working on a career in golf management, and Jake a year away from college.

“We’re not close enough to retirement,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve got to get the kids through college first before we think of that.”

To know Ducharme will be around for a while is certainly good news for the industry, which can never have enough good guys representing harness racing.

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