Hall of Famers honored and celebrated
by Kathy Parker
“Harness racing is not the only thing in the world, even though it is the only thing in the world.”
The words of Ron Burke during his induction speech into the sport’s Hall of Fame may not always be true for everyone in harness racing, but on Sunday night, July 3, they applied to all who gathered on the lawn adjacent to the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame as Burke and others were honored. Burke, Yannick Gingras and George Teague Jr. were voted into the Hall of Fame last summer and were joined by Chris Boring, who was elected to the Hall through a Veterans designation.
Boring, now retired from racing, was introduced by his longtime friend, Hall of Famer Chuck Sylvester, and he kept his acceptance speech brief. His younger classmates had much more to say, which was in keeping with their extroverted personalities and ease in speaking about their careers.
While Burke’s acknowledged the importance of his work in his life with the above statement, which was delivered in a light-hearted fashion, neither he nor Gingras or Teague could escape the profound emotion they felt and displayed standing at the podium in Goshen, accepting their honor as new Hall of Famers.
In a 15-minute speech, Burke began by thanking his parents, then expanded his list to include siblings Mickey Jr., Michelle and Becky, who work with the Burke Stable; his wife, Diane; sons Brad and Ryan—who prompted his quip that he learned harness racing is not the only thing in the world—and the many owners who have been with the Burke Stable throughout the years.
He also had a few things to say about a handful of special horses he has trained.
Buck I St Pat: “Our first Dan Patch winner.”
Foiled Again: “…what’s he’s done for me, for my family.”
Sweet Lou: “…as a sire he taught us there was another way to make money in this business.”
Mission Brief: “…best horse I ever trained—it’s not even close. I will always love her.”
Hannelore Hanover: “My first Horse of the Year.”
Burke also emphasized that, while he has rewritten the sport’s record book on total wins and purse winnings for a trainer, he has no thoughts of retiring.
“I’m not done,” said Burke, whose stable numbers in the vicinity of 300 horses—in several different states—these days. “I say I’m going to be smaller, but my friends laugh. I still love to race. Nothing is better than winning a race. I love to win a five claimer!”
Burke also acknowledged that some of his greatest race wins have come with driver Yannick Gingras. When Gingras got to the podium, he also made note of their synergy together, especially with the great pacer Foiled Again.
“I wish Foiled was going in with us,” said Gingras. “He was the true beginning of us at this level.”
Gingras noted that Burke is not a trainer known for thanking and congratulating his drivers, but there was one memorable exception to the trainer’s habit: “Sept. 1, 2012. It’s Foiled Again winning the Canadian Pacing Derby. He (Ron Burke) left me a message that I still have on my phone. It has a tremble in his voice to congratulate me.”
While the teamwork with Burke has put Gingras in many prestigious winner’s circles, the driver’s decision to stick with the filly Mission Brief may have cost him a Hambletonian triumph. Gingras picked off of the Jimmy Takter-trained Pinkman, who won the race with Brian Sears in the sulky, while Gingras and Mission Brief crossed the wire second.
Pinkman was trained by Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter, who trained five of Gingras’ six Hambletonian Oaks winners during a streak from 2014 through 2018.
“What a ride we had for 10 years,” said Gingras. “It’s not too late, by the way. You can unretire. I will take you back! Your pursuit of excellence…is really what I remember. I definitely wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for you.”
After thanking his wife, Vicki, for her support, and noting that the “family we built together is what keeps everything in perspective,” Gingras spoke of his children—son Jaden and daughters Addison and Averi—and they joined him at the podium. Then, the native of the Canadian province of Quebec wrapped up his speech by speaking to his family in French, with his grandmother, Carmelle Gingras, in the audience.
Hall of Famer Joe Holloway introduced fellow Delaware native George Teague Jr. and Teague also spoke of family. His father, he said, “…was way better a horseman than I thought I could be. I wish my parents were here. They taught us a work ethic.”
Introductions to horsemen such as Gerald Kelly of Virginia, Lew Williams, and later Dr. Ken Seeber, gave him confidence, but “Without timing, luck and most important, opportunity, it is very tough to crack into this game,” he said.
Teague has trained two Horses of the Year, Rainbow Blue (2004) And Wiggle It Jiggleit (2015). He noted that his sister, Brenda, handled Rainbow Blue during her career and that “ she outworks anybody.”
He owned Wiggle It Jiggleit, but when it came to a training credit, he put his longtime right-hand man, Clyde Francis, down on the program. Racing Wiggle It Jiggleit was special because his son, Montrell, drove the horse.
“Over-the-top fun,” Teague said of racing Wiggle It Jiggleit. “First of all, I have my son (driving him). When you can have a horse like Wiggle It Jiggleit and have your son drive, I’m ready to read the book, and I don’t read books.”
Teague said his wife, Joy, sister Brenda, son Montrell, Clyde Francis and Tom Cugle—who he said “works seven days a week, and I’ve never asked him to do it”—“hold the honor with me today.” HB
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