Winning Never Gets Old For Burke

Ron Burke in the winner's circle with Little Brown Jug champion Bythemissal
Published: May 11, 2023 12:01 pm EDT

Ron Burke likes to win. Whether it is a low-level claiming race or Grand Circuit stakes — or even a steak dinner — the record-setting trainer remains motivated by the thrill of victory. Even after experiencing the feeling nearly 13,700 times in his Hall of Fame career, helping his stable accumulate purse earnings of now more than $300 million, it never gets old.

“I love the sport,” said Burke. “I tell people all the time, I like winning [any race]. Winning is fun. That’s the one thing I’ll never get tired of. It’s the most fun part of the sport. If you’re not in this for the wins, I don’t know what the heck you’re in it for. That feeling when your horse wins, I understand where people get addicted to it.”

Every time Burke wins a race, or adds a dollar to his purse earnings, he extends his own records in those categories for a trainer. His victory total is more than 6,400 ahead of second-place Virgil Morgan Jr. and his money total is nearly $170 million ahead of retired Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter in the No. 2 spot. 

Burke, a three-time U.S. Trainer of the Year award winner who was inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame in 2022, became the first person to reach $300 million USD this past Saturday in North American purses in harness racing history.

“I’m proud of it,” Burke said about the accomplishment. “It’s a lot of work, by a lot of people, to do it. It’s cool.

“It’s harder to win races now than I think it’s ever been. We just stepped it up. I get great support too. That’s the one thing, I consistently get great support from my owners, from my parents, Mark [Weaver, of Weaver Bruscemi LLC], everybody. I get what horses I want. I’m not one of those people who can say, ‘If I got better horses, then I would do better.’ I can’t get any better horses, so I can’t complain that way.”

Burke’s milestone this past Saturday scored him a win that will not show up in his stats — a steak dinner from driver David Miller, the result of a bet the two made several years ago over which of them would reach $300 million first. Burke and Miller, whose earnings stand at $272 million USD entering Thursday, were at The Meadows on Saturday as the track hosted Pennsylvania Sire Stakes action.

“I told David that by the end of the day he was going to owe me a steak dinner,” Burke said with a laugh. “He said, ‘You’re going to pass it today?’ I said, 'I think so.' So, I liked that.”

A little more than one-quarter of the way through 2023, Burke is in his traditional spots atop the trainer standings for wins and purses. He has led both categories in each of the past 14 years, including single-season records of 1,093 victories and $28.4 million USD in 2014.

Last year, Burke topped 1,000 wins for the fourth time in his career, with 1,031, and $20 million in money for the ninth time, with $22.3 million USD. No other trainer has ever reached those levels once.

“There’s really nothing new now record-wise that I even really care about,” said Burke. “I’d just like to keep doing well. Now it’s try to win a [Hambletonian], try to win a Meadowlands Pace. One, I thought I already had done. For 10 minutes, I knew what it was like to win a Hambo. Then I also knew what it was like for them to take it back [when What The Hill was disqualified in 2017]. Of course, winning the Jug, winning the Adios; those are always fun. Breeders Crowns are great. More like that.”

Still, Burke could push his career numbers to even more mindboggling levels like, perhaps, 20,000 wins and $500 million in purses.

“Half-a-billion would be cool,” said the 53-year-old Burke. “But then I think, do I have 10 more years in me at this level? I have 10 more years in me, for sure, but even to get to 20,000 wins, that’s 10 more years of 600. I know I could do it for the first five years; I could probably get 5,000 wins. But the next 2,000 of those wins, could I get them in the next four years?

“It’s like I tell my drivers, there will always be somebody coming for your job. Father Time is undefeated. That applies to me too. Experience will help you as you lose physical attributes, to a point. But you can have all the experience in the world, and if you can’t physically do what you used to do, you’re not going to get the same results.”

For now, though, Burke will simply continue to enjoy the sport as he does, with as many trips to the winner’s circle as possible. A lot of that enjoyment stems from sharing the victories with his numerous longtime ownership partners.

“One of the best parts of my stable is that all my partners are friends with each other,” said Burke. “I love that. There is no in-fighting in our barn. They all tease each other, but they all like each other. When you have everyone pulling in the same direction and not being jealous of each other, it’s a big deal.

“I think that makes winning even better because ‘we’ won, a whole group of us. I really like that. It’s cool.”

(With files from USTA)