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Elver Hanover Makes 2020 Debut

Published: May 22, 2020 10:58 am ET

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The fastest two-year-old male pacer in harness racing history, Elver Hanover made his sophomore debut a winning one earlier this week in a qualifier. And though he won that qualifier in a time more than 10 seconds off his lifetime mark, trainer Ron Burke had good things to say about that effort.

"To be honest, about a month ago, he came down with a virus and he's just now starting to come back out of it," Burke told Trot Insider on Wednesday. "So I wasn't thrilled with his performance but I wasn't crushed by it either. He doesn't look great yet, I don't think he feels great. And if I'd have known they were moving the Sire Stakes back before -- I didn't see that until after the qualifier -- I wouldn't have qualified him...I would have waited another week."

Right around the time that Burke was sending out Elver Hanover, the Ohio Sires Stakes schedule was revised, placing the first leg of the OHSS for three-year-pacing colts at June 12. Whether Elver Hanover will be where Burke wants him to be for that test is still yet to be determined. Elver Hanover closed from off cover to win his first sophomore appearance in a time of 1:59.

"We got done what we needed to do, but I'm still not happy with where he is health-wise. I'm hoping he's headed in the right direction though," said Burke. "I was worried that I'd have to skip the first Sire Stake. Now, another week is a big deal. I'm hoping now that I can get him turned all the way around and get him going back the way we're going.

"He came out of the race better than he's come out of his training miles leading up to it. He was alert and happy, and that's a good sign...I'm not happy with where he's at but I'm happy that the ship has turned back around and is heading in the right direction."

A son of Yankee Cruiser–Edra Hanover, Elver Hanover won all nine of his freshman starts for Burke Racing LLC, Dr. Bridgette Jablonsky, Jason Melillo, J&T Silva - Purnel & Libby and earned $363,450. He was named Ohio's Horse of the Year for 2019, and Burke noted in an earlier interview that the pacer was staked to "everything we could stake him to" for 2020.

Of course, the landscape of racing has changed since those early stakes payments were made. One of the bigger tests for Elver Hanover this year would have been the 2020 Pepsi North America Cup, which has been moved from its traditional mid-June date to late August. Burke admits that the rescheduling could be a blessing in disguise for Elver Hanover.

"He might be the one horse that actually benefits from this unintended break because we could have been in for a real bad start if he had to race earlier.

"I'll wait on him; it's a long year, and he's a great horse. He tries his heart out and that's the thing: up until a few weeks ago, he was acting like he doesn't like his work. And that's not him."

Ohio's top two-year-old pacing filly from 2019 was the Burke-trained Looksgoodinaromper, and she also made her sophomore debut on Wednesday. With Chris Page at the controls, the daughter of Pet Rock - Dont Blame Her was a confident winner in 1:55.4.

"The track was hard, which she doesn't like," admitted Burke. "And she likes more time to warm up...she kind of likes to do things her way, and going one lap and going to the gate isn't her deal.

"I was very happy with her, she's just a quality, quality horse and professional in every manner. Being honest, there's not a nicer horse to be around. Just a fun horse to train and take care of and be near. Any day I get to spend with her is a fun day."

Looksgoodinaromper hit the board in eight of her 12 rookie races and earned $321,873 for Burke Racing LLC and Weaver Bruscemi LLC. She etched her name into the world record books on August 9, 2019 when she captured an Ohio Sires Stakes race at Northfield Park in 1:52.3.

The return to action was a welcome one for Burke, who was the first trainer out on the track when Scioto Downs opened for qualifiers last Saturday -- the first Standardbred pari-mutuel track in Ohio to resume any form of organized activity since closing in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I was sitting there just dying to go out and get the day started, so I was probably out there a few minutes early...I just wanted to go.

"I've been going to qualifiers between there and Northfield every day basically...just because I have the time. Usually I don't have the time to spend time at qualifiers, I might have races to watch or entries to make and I really don't have that much going on right now. And that part I've enjoyed; I enjoy going to the qualifiers and I enjoy talking to the driver right after, making sure we're all on the same page of where we're at and where I want to be coming out of the qualifier."

If it wasn't evident by the size of his stable, Ron Burke loves to race. But he admitted that there are parts of this new reduced schedule he finds more pleasant than he expected.

"There have been parts of this I've liked. I've found out I don't mind being at home at night and not having races. I don't like it every night, so it might lead to me actually cutting back by the end of the year and maybe seeing a little bit of a start to take back...but I still love racing. I like winning qualifiers, I've said it before. Like today, when they win I get a rush out of it. It's not like winning a Breeders Crown, but it's winning. You know what it is."

Happy to be competing safely in Ohio, Burke would like to see racing under these new protocols get the green light in his home state of Pennsylvania sooner than later.

"By far, I don't think this thing's over but maybe we're getting a leg up on it. I don't think this business can take much more, to be honest...People need to make money, you can only give so many handouts. At some point, we have to earn and being honest I'm much more comfortable doing that than anything else.

"Everybody's going to have to have patience; the new normal is not the old normal but it doesn't mean it has to be a bad normal. We're going to get through this year and rebuild the sport and move forward and hopefully come out of it better."

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