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Bercury On His Impressive 2019 Season

Published: January 6, 2020 10:58 am ET

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New Year’s morning in Slippery Rock, southwestern Pennsylvania. The weak early light barely picks up the two figures approaching a barn. Horsenappers? Holiday revelers hung over and lost?

The barn door bursts open, and Bill Bercury and his wife, Renee, shower their horses with treats, then serenade them with a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday.’

Most in the Standardbred game know that all horses are assigned a birthday of January 1, but how many horsemen and horsewomen go out of their way to celebrate that day with their horses? The Bercurys do, and that affection and concern may be one of the reasons for their enduring success.

Their success never was more evident than in 2019, when Bill Bercury topped all trainers (in the Less Than 300 Starts category) with an eye-popping .580 Universal Trainer Rating (UTR). Andrew Adamczyk was second at .524; no one else topped .500. From 123 starts, the Bercury stable rolled up 51 wins and earned $617,870, an average of more than $5,023 per start.

The Bercurys’ program is to purchase proven equine commodities — “We buy damn nice horses,” Bill says — pay fair market value for them and train them to even greater heights. They’re limited by stall space to six horses, but each was outstanding in 2019 while performing at the Meadows and sometimes Northfield Park. The Bercurys’ six-pack includes:

  • Touchamatic, Older Pacing Mare of the Year at The Meadows and winner of 18 of 36 starts last year. “A big part of our success was having her lead the pack,” Bercury says.

  • Barn Girl, an eight-year-old trotting mare who’s won exactly half her 132 lifetime starts and $860,478.

  • Carolina Beach, a consistent Preferred pacer who banked nearly $150,000 in 2019.

  • Major Nemesis, a terror at Northfield before being shelved with an injury.

  • Blue Ivy, at four, the youngest of the contingent and perhaps the one with the most upward potential. The pacing filly closed the year with a five-race winning streak and $131,537 in seasonal earnings.

  • Wind Of The North, a 10-year-old trotting millionaire who missed 10 months with an injury. He’s set to qualify Thursday.

Bercury credits his assistant, Mike McDowell, with getting the most from that talented bunch.

“He’s very good with the horses, and he’s very good about noticing the things that are bothering them. He never says, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing.’ He takes care of it.”

Bercury also cites the impact of Aaron Merriman, who was aboard for most of the Bercury stable’s starts en route to his third consecutive thousand-win season — a harness racing first.

“We have the best driver in the sport driving our horses — how many points is that worth?”

But perhaps the most important factor in the Bercurys’ success is that, while they’re savvy business owners, they treat their horses with compassion.

“As long as you operate in a dignified manner, your horses learn to trust other horses, and they learn to trust you,” Bercury says. “As long as you don’t violate that trust, they become comfortable with you. That’s so important to the horse’s attitude.”

Other western Pennsylvania horsemen fared well in the UTR Fewer Than 300 Starts category, as Robert Rougeaux III ranked eighth at .432, while Mike Palone checked in at twenty-first with a .397 UTR. As for the year just begun, Bercury is realistic about his chances of successfully defending his title.

“Let’s face it, .580 is nosebleed territory, and you can’t expect to be there every year,” he says. “But I expect to have an outstanding year.”

The 2020 season at the Meadows will kick off Monday with a 13-race card that will begin at 1:05 p.m.

(Meadows Standardbred Owners Association)

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