02/20/2013 1:14PM

Harness Racing: Twitter is the perfect sounding board

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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.