02/20/2013 1:14PM

Harness Racing: Twitter is the perfect sounding board


There is a clear perception issue in harness racing that many trainers are cheating. It is seemingly obvious or why would Meadowlands operator Jeff Gural spend so much time and money trying to catch wrongdoers?

I have argued many times that I will not convict without evidence. I may suspect and certainly handicap accordingly, but I will always give the likely “cheater on paper” the benefit of the doubt.

Recently on Twitter, trainer Ron Burke did quite a bit of commenting about his thoughts on whether there is a drug issue in the sport and certainly defended his record.

Burke, who is the perennial leader in training wins and earnings each year, is clearly fed up with hearing about the use of illegal drugs in the sport.

Here is what he said (slightly adjusted for grammar purposes – Twitter is about short and sweet, not proper English) with a bit of commentary.


“Why is it if a driver wins races he is talented but a trainer that does is a cheater?”

While drivers do get plenty of credit for making good decisions on the track, I think most will agree that this is a trainer’s game. Sure, guys like Tim Tetrick and Yannick Gingras are talented, but if Burke sends out horses with another lesser known driver, he is still going to win plenty of races.


“Why does everybody assume horses are juiced? Come to my barn and see if you see anybody doing anything illegal.”

This is cut and dry. When you have something that seems too good to be true, you naturally assume there must be a reason for it. As for Burke, he has such a high volume of horses that he can classify better than most trainers and win more races. Of the names you hear bandied about for doing illegal things, I rarely hear his name.


“No trainers with best horses win more. I do not juice we buy good horses, train hard and classify them.”

Makes sense to me.


“I might be naive but I really don't think it [drugs] is the problem that everybody thinks.”

I certainly do not spend as much time on the backstretch as Burke, but this seems like a statement I would want to retract if I could. I’m not saying every trainer is doing something illegal, but when you look around professional sports in general, from NFL to MLB to Cycling, bending the rules seems to be par for the course.


“I will tell you the same I told others. Come to my barn and watch and see for yourself.”

I’m not sure you can learn much in one day, but it would be interesting to follow any trainer around for a week or so and see everything from an insider’s view. At the very least you would get a better appreciation for the hours that go into the job on a daily basis.


“I think people that make baseless accusations are a big part of the problem.”

Can’t disagree with the statement, but we do have free speech in this country.


Burke deserves a ton of credit for somehow being able to manage the largest standardbred stable in North America and sticking his neck out to make comments like the above. His interactions via Twitter with fans and naysayers are how we start to change the perceptions that exist in society. Sites like Twitter and Facebook help to break down the barriers between the backstretch and the grandstand.

There are plenty of top horsemen participating, including Yannick Gingras, Mark Harder, Marcus Miller and Mark MacDonald. Gingras has been talking about his Meadowlands drives before each card. Harder has been engaging fans about Golden Receiver and other horses. Miller and MacDonald touch on various topics almost daily. Those are just a few of the names that you see constantly interacting.

Ron Burke spoke his mind. If only all the other trainers and drivers would embrace technology we could really make progress.



Jeff Mcintosh More than 1 year ago
Tim Wells More than 1 year ago
I second and third and fourth the motion of Mr. Kendrick and I have a story that illustrates that drugs are more then just a passing Fad and they just keep getting tougher to detect. I purchased a horse, well half of one, from a friend who was in need of Money. We decided to take him to Lexington and race her the next start. Back in the barn area my friend disappeared and I had know idea where he was AND WAS A LITTLE UPSET. 45 minutes later and truck pulled up and my friend was close behind. The guy gets out of his vehicle and walks up , pats the horse on the neck, and says so you want to get him to go faster. The next thing I knew, he disappears in the back of his truck and contrary to what Mr. Burke , the gentleman did not reappear with a different type of feed, the guy had a syringe in both hands. He gave are horse a couple of shots and wished us luck and was on his way. I have been around this business 36 years and have seen it all. I have lots of friends in the business, in fact, I had a friend get 30 days for a positive test last year and no not for changing the feed. I had a friend become irate because he hated people talking about the dope being used on the horses, 2 days later his brother was caught with multiple syringes in his pocket and got 6 months. Personally, I love the game of Harness racing but it would be nice to hear trainers being honest about what goes on and not defending what they do. Just say they haven't ever caught me using anything and be done with it. I will finish by agreeing with Mr Kendrick that the cheaters are always going to be one step ahead and until the slot money is split between drug testing and purses nothing will ever change.
Doug Kendrick More than 1 year ago
I don't know if what I posted previously helped to stoke some of this but I'll say it again; go back and look at some tapes of Perrito Caliente at Balmoral and tell me that is the same horse that one now sees at the Meadowlands for Burke. What is he giving the horse, One a Day Vtamins, the equine version? I doubt it. Drug usage is a plague and the users always stay one step ahead of those in charge of catching them. Quick story to illustrate my point. Years ago a friend of mine claimed a horse at Roosevelt. I won't name the trainer but in those days Lasix was OK in NJ but not NY. In the horses first start at Roosevelt he got a perfect second over trip and literally stopped to a walk across the finish line. When we went down to the barn area my friend's trainer said "we have a problem". He then wiped his finger inside the horses nostril and it was covered with blood. A few stalls down was the old trainer snickering and laughing with his friends. It was obvious the horse was being treated with something to stop his bleeding problem. My friend had to wait thirty days and then take him to the Meadowlands where he could treat him with Lasix. Eventually Lasix was approved in NY but the point is there is always something being used to get around the rules.
Tim Wells More than 1 year ago
I have to agree with everything Mr. Wells said. Nice to see someone has the guts to tell it like it seems and not make the drug issue a non issue
Tim Wells More than 1 year ago
I look at it this way Oh by the way where did Micky Burke go . Thats right he got banned for using better feed and oats I guess. I can't imagine that Lou Pena is Labeled a Cheater and Ron Burke is not. I will say this until every single possible drug in existence is capable of being detected I will always have my doubts. I have seen to many 58 pacers turn into 53 pacers after they arrive at the Burke Barn whether it be the Meadows or the Meadowlands and as good as Mr. Burke thinks he is He can't be just outworking every trainer in the Country. Team Ledford was dominate until the got caught and I guess its like Andy Beyer said in a article some time ago . If they cheat they will get caught but the great thing Harness racing is that the only thing that ever gets suspended is the Trainers name and he can always train in someone elses name. That is , in a word why Harness racing has such a bad name
Jay Bergman More than 1 year ago
As Anonymous only proves, Twitter, Faceback and blogs all may be modern but they are by no means evolutionary in problem solving. I think they help express a greater divide in society separating the alleged good guys from the alleged bad guys. The fact that people can speak without identity leads to a far more corrupt way of dealing with issues than actual face-to-face meetings. Mr. Gural and his business connections employ trainers as well making it impossible for him to be totally impartial when separating the alleged good from the believed bad.
Derick More than 1 year ago
People can speak without identity, but when it comes to Twitter and Facebook, most of the trainers and drivers participating are using their own names.
Robert Ballenger More than 1 year ago
I half to agree with Ron Burke. I used to know a lot of trainers that had small stables. That worked hard everyday and did it by the book. They used the best ways of training that they knew and were not afraid to ask questions to the bigger trainers so they could improve their abilities. They would talk with the drivers that drove there horses to get their feed back after every race.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How does Burke "classify better than most trainers" at the Big M when the race office classifies his horses for him but he still wins at an unbelievable rate?