01/03/2013 5:10PM

Harness Racing: Ron Burke has another stellar year

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Derick Giwner
Ron Burke picked up some trophies at the Delaware County Fair in 2012.

For the fourth consecutive year, Ron Burke led all trainers in North America in both wins and purses. He did it with record-breaking totals – again – as well.

Burke won 906 races in 2012, breaking harness racing’s training record of 842 established by his stable in 2010. He saw his horses win $19.69 million in purses in 2012, breaking the record of $18.54 million set by his stable in 2011.

“Obviously, the better you do, the harder it is to top it, but that’s what we set out to do,” Burke said. “We always want to do better than the previous year. I think that motivates everyone.”

The highlight of 2012 was Foiled Again becoming the richest pacer in North American harness racing history thanks to his victory in the Canadian Pacing Derby. Foiled Again finished the season with $4.62 million in lifetime earnings and was voted the sport’s best older male pacer for the second consecutive year.

“I didn’t think Sweet Lou’s Breeders Crown win (in 2011) would ever be topped, but Foiled Again winning the Canadian Pacing Derby – and not going in as the favorite – was a big deal,” Burke said. “That’s the happiest I’ve ever been with a horse winning.”

Foiled Again won seven of 24 races in 2012 and finished on the board 20 times on his way to $1.20 million in purses. At the age of 8, he broke his own record for oldest pacer to ever have a million-dollar season.

“It was awesome,” Burke said about Foiled Again winning divisional honors. “I thought he had the best year. Other horses had good runs, but it’s a year, and from beginning to end Foiled was there.”

Burke also watched 3-year-old pacer Sweet Lou top $1 million for the season, finishing at $1.08 million, thanks to winning eight of 20 starts and never missing a check all year.

Sweet Lou entered the campaign with high expectations after being named the sport’s best 2-year-old male pacer in 2011. This year, he won eliminations for the North America Cup, Meadowlands Pace and Adios – as well as winning an opening-round heat of the Little Brown Jug – but was unable to capture any of those finals.

The colt’s top moment came in winning the $510,300 Tattersalls Pace by a head over stablemate Hillbilly Hanover in 1:48 1/5 at Lexington’s Red Mile.

“I still think he was the best 3-year-old, but he never put it together,” Burke said about Sweet Lou’s season. “I’d love the opportunity to start over and get the chance to prove it. He raced great in eliminations and then wouldn’t do well in the finals. Things just never worked out.”

Sweet Lou will return to the races this year for his 4-year-old season.

“I love the chance to bring him back and give him another shot,” Burke said.

Other top wins for Burke in 2012 included Darena Hanover winning the Jugette, Atochia capturing the Levy Memorial Series final, Rocklamation winning the Milton Stakes, Bettor B Lucky taking the Lady Maud, Camille winning the Ellamony, Foreclosure N winning the American-National and Clear Vision nipping Foiled Again by a nose in the Bettor’s Delight.

Burke’s stable, which averaged 11.3 starters per calendar day in 2012, will try to hit $20 million in purses this year.

“That was the goal (in 2012),” Burke said. “Looking back, I see where if Sweet Lou wins another race, if Atochia and Clear Vision both don’t have leg issues and have to quit in June, we could have done it. I knew it would take what we did, racing a gazillion horses every week.”

Burke’s stable made 4,153 starts in 2012, another record. The total was 2,279 more than the next most starts by any stable in North America, but staying busy suits Burke.

“It’s hard, but I have good guys and we have a great system now,” Burke said. “If someone handed you 200 horses and said, ‘Just do it,’ it would seem impossible. But if you had 10, then 20, then 40, then a hundred, and you grew into it, it becomes just a way of life. It’s not that big of a deal now.

“Last week we didn’t have anything racing and it was so unbelievably boring. What the heck did we do before we had all these horses to race? My whole group is a bunch of people that love to race; for us it’s fun.”