By Jerry Bossert
Harness trainer Ron Burke's record-setting year continued the evening of Dec. 12 when he broke Todd Pletcher's North American record for purses won by a trainer.
Pletcher held the mark of $28,116,097 set in 2007, but Burke passed it Friday night at the Meadowlands when Appomattox crossed the wire first in the Free For All Handicap Trot.
By the end of Friday night, Burke's earnings totaled $28,146,935. He has had 4,943 starters this year with 1,071 wins, 846 seconds, and 654 thirds.
Burke, 45, hails from the small town of Canonsburg, Pa, just southwest of Pittsburgh, a region known more for steel mills and coal mines.
"I'm very happy and proud," said Burke, who was afraid of horses while growing up on his dad's horse farm.
Earlier this year, Burke became the first harness trainer to win $100 million in purses in his career, which began in 2009 when he took over the family run operation from his aging father Mickey, 78. His father still helps taking care of the unraced 2-year-olds in Florida.
"I hope to become harness racing's first $200 million man, too," Burke said after topping the $100 million mark in May.
Burke's stable consists of about 225 horses racing primarily in New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio with the help of 20 assistant trainers and 40 grooms. His 70-year-old mother, Sylvia, takes care of the books.
He's on the road 75% of the time reeling up mileage on his two cars; he said he puts 30,000 miles on each car a year.
On Nov. 21, Burke saddled Mission Brief and Sayitall BB to victories in two Breeders Crown races. Other stars in his barn include Sweet Lou, who won 11 races this year, and Foiled Again, who Burke purchased for $62,000 in 2008. Foiled Again has become harness racing's all-time money earner with $6,894,531.
Burke credits the development of technology for his success as it allows him to enter horses at different tracks in different states right from his phone. He also built an office in his home in Canonsburg that features four high definition television sets.
"I wouldn't have been able to do all of this 20 years ago," said Burke, who on an average night starts 15 horses. On most Saturdays, he averages 40-50 runners.