10/24/2014 9:57AM

Yonkers: Burke plays the role of underdog in major stakes

USTA Photo
Trainer Ron Burke has won 928 races (as of 10/23) in 2014.

With nearly $23 million in horse earnings this year, it seems rare that trainer Ron Burke doesn’t have one of the favorites in a major stakes race. On Saturday night at Yonkers Raceway, Burke will play the role of underdog in each of the three marquee stakes on the card.

The most intriguing race of the big trio is the $250,000 International Trot Preview where Burke sends out Archangel as the fifth choice on the morning line. A winner of only two races in 14 starts this year, Archangel is still looking for his first major win versus the best older trotters in North America. The 5-year-old son of Credit Winner, who took 2013 off for stallion duty, owns a second-place finish in the $236K Crawford at Vernon Downs, a third in the $300K Cashman at the Meadowlands, and a second in the $200K Charlie Hill at Scioto Downs.

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While the victories have been too few, Burke is optimistic about Archangel’s chances with the switch to the half mile track at Yonkers. “He loves Yonkers,” said Burke of the former Yonkers Trot winner. “The owners want to win this race and everything we’ve been doing has been pointing to it.”

Archangel’s major edge is his early speed, a trait driver Matt Kakaley can certainly use to his advantage considering he drew inside (post three) of top contender Sebastian K (post six), who has led in the majority of his eight wins this year.

“When the turn comes, hopefully we can sting him for a while,” said Burke on the possibility of Archangel keeping Sebastian K parked on the outside as long as possible. That of course is assuming Archangel can get around Commander Crowe leaving from post one. “Commander Crowe is kind of an unknown leaving from the rail. I guess we’ll see how quick he gets away,” commented Burke.

The 1 1/4 mile International Preview goes as race nine and anchors a $20,000 guaranteed pick five that kicks off in the fifth race, where Burke sends out Gural Hanover in the $500,000 Yonkers Trot for 3-year-old trotters.

Gural Hanover figures to be a clear second choice from post one versus the likely heavy favorite Nuncio. Burke is hoping for the best but is not sure his gelding is up to the task. “If he was at his best, maybe,” said Burke about Gural Hanover’s chances of upending Nuncio. “I don’t think he is as sharp as he was early in the year. It is hard to keep them going all year.”

Nuncio has won nine of 14 races in 2014 and has yet to finish worse than second. John Campbell will drive the colt from post two. Gural Hanover will start from post one with Jim Morrill, Jr. in the bike.

All Bets Off and Forty Five Red form a two-headed entry for Burke in the $500,000 Messenger Pace for 3-year-olds. All Bets Off is the better of the two with $658,625 earned in 2014 while winning 10 of 14 races. Forty Five Red is only 2-for-17 on the year with $147,923 in earnings.

Although he wasn’t predicting victory, Burke said he would be “shocked” if All Bets Off (post six) didn’t improve off a disappointing fourth-place finish in his Messenger elimination. On the flip side, Burke admitted he would be happy with a check from Forty Five Red, who drew outside post eight.

Burke also sends out a pair in both 3-year-old filly companion races to the $500,000 main events for the boys. In the $150,854 Lady Maud, he’ll once again by hoping for a top-five finish as Beautiful Lady and A La Notte Hanover are stuck in posts seven and eight, respectively. His best chance of victory on the 13-race program, and his only clear favorite in stakes action, comes with the duo of Market Rally and Avalicious in the $124,590 Hudson Trot. Both sophomore trotters have proven themselves over the half mile track at Yonkers, with the former winning the NY Sire Stakes final here in September.

Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, Burke was excited about the card at Yonkers and especially the International. “It will be cool to watch. I’ve got to give Yonkers credit for putting this together,” said Burke.

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