by Ken Weingartner
John Ducharme has enjoyed a varied career in harness racing, from attorney to racetrack presiding judge, to breeder, trainer, driver, and owner. And as he approaches his 90th birthday, in March, he considers himself fortunate.
“When you get the chance to live out your passion,” Ducharme said, “it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Right now, it doesn’t get any better than the ride Ducharme is on with 7-year-old male trotter Valley Of Sin. Ducharme bought Valley Of Sin privately in October 2015 with the idea of breeding him to his small band of broodmares, but has put those plans on hold after watching the horse’s successful return from injury.
Last year, Valley Of Sin won eight of 28 races and earned $87,240. The son of Yankee Glide-Anklet Hanover was at his best as the year came to an end, capturing four of his final five starts of 2016, all at The Meadows. On Saturday, he is the 2-1 morning line favorite in the $22,000 Preferred Handicap at The Meadows, leaving from post No. 9 with trainer-driver Wilbur Yoder.
For his career, Valley Of Sin has won 18 of 48 races and earned $256,899. He has won six of nine races lifetime at The Meadows, finishing worse than second only once.
“He’s a nice horse,” Ducharme said of Valley Of Sin, who at age 3 was a multiple winner on the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes circuit and also won the Townsend Ackerman at the Meadowlands Racetrack. “When he was young and sound, he raced well wherever he was.”
Ducharme is no stranger to success with trotters. He bred, trained and co-owned 1995 Breeders Crown 3-year-old colt champion Abundance (who also won a Hambletonian heat before finishing second to Tagliabue in the final); bred, trained and owned stakes-winner High Tech (a Breeders Crown runner-up in 1999); and trained 1975 Elitlopp runner-up Quick Work and 1982 Canadian Trotting Classic runner-up Crowntron.
When Ducharme watched Valley Of Sin win a division of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in a track-record 1:52.3 at The Meadows in 2013, he decided to keep an eye on the horse. Unfortunately, Valley Of Sin suffered a suspensory injury and was limited to only four starts (three wins and a second) in the ensuing two years.
“I saw that (sire stakes) race and thought he was the best I’d seen in a while,” Ducharme said. “I followed his career because I thought I might like to buy him, and I finally did. I was going to breed him to a few of my mares, but he seemed to be sound, so while we were waiting to breed him we decided to see how he would hold up in training. Wilbur has done a great job with him. He’s showing the type of horse that he was, and is.”
Said Yoder, “I like everything about him. The minute he walked in the door, he was just a nice horse. You can do whatever you want with him. He’s got a lot of speed and he’s got a lot of manners. He handles nice, he’s quiet, he does his work, his ears are always up; he’s just happy to be a racehorse.”
For now, Valley Of Sin, who is a ridgling, will remain a racehorse. Ducharme has 10 mares, but wants to keep Valley Of Sin “in racing mode” as long as the horse is healthy.
“I’m an older man, so I enjoy having him race,” Ducharme said, laughing. “Of course, racing horses is race to race. I think he’s capable of racing at the top level and I’d like to maybe give him that opportunity (this year) on a limited basis. It’s a management issue, but hope is eternal.
“We’re just enjoying this,” he added. “It’s been a good ride.”