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"If We Get Beat We Have No Excuse"

Published: June 13, 2012 9:03 am ET

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A shot at winning the richest harness race in Canada with the top ranked three-year-old pacing colt on the continent sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

Savouring the moment, trainer Ron Burke and his wife Diane drove five hours from their Pennsylvania home-base to Campbellville, Ontario on Tuesday to attend the post draw for Saturday's $1.5 million Pepsi North America Cup at Mohawk Racetrack…and then headed back home just a few hours later after securing their preferred starting spot and graciously catering to numerous media requests for interviews.

“We’ve been in it before, but we’ve never had a chance,” said Burke, who finished sixth with Fred And Ginger in the 2010 edition won by Sportswriter. “Basically, we were looking for people to fall down for us to win it, but now to have a legitimate shot, it’s exciting. You want to come here, you want to do your best. And we’ve had a good record here, we do well here and the horses seem to like the surface so to have one that’s competitive makes it extra special.”

Sweet Lou was the No. 1 ranked colt in North America heading into the 2012 season after a dominant freshman campaign, which included a 1:49 world record performance in the Breeders Crown and divisional Dan Patch honours. After winning a pair of Pennsylvania Sire Stakes in his home state to start his sophomore year, he solidified himself as the 3-5 morning line favourite for the Pepsi North America Cup with another record-setting victory in his elimination last Saturday. After getting away fourth from the inside post position, Sweet Lou swept to command down the backstretch and cruised home to win by two and a quarter lengths over hometown favourite Warrawee Needy in a 1:47.4 track and Canadian record.

“He was very good. It was a great race and obviously you’ve got to be happy with a track record and Canadian record,” said the reigning U.S. Trainer of the Year. “But it was very competitive. There were a lot of horses that were still right around at the finish so I think it sets up for a great final.”

Burke noted that Sweet Lou showed some signs of having a virus recently, but has pulled through without any further issues.

“His temperature was 98.2 - 98.5, which is not normal for him -- it’s usually almost 100 -- and his white [blood] count had started to go down to the fives and it’s usually in the upper sixes so I know that there was some viral thing, but he never did miss a meal and never did act depressed so in that way I knew he was alright. We had to make a decision and we had to race. Basically, he went out and he did what he needed to do.”

Burke said the son of 2003 Cup champion Yankee Cruiser came out of his elimination in excellent shape and will be entering the $1.5 million final in top form.

“This is the best week he’s had so far,” Burke told Trot Insider. “His temperature is perfect and his blood is perfect so really if we get beat we have no excuse, he just gets beat.”

Sweet Lou, who shipped back home after his elimination, will have a lighter training routine heading into the Cup – just enough to keep him on his toes.

“We’ll lay off a little bit this week,” said Burke, who also co-owns the colt as Burke Racing Stable LLC with Weaver Bruscemi LLC, Lawrence Karr, and Phillip Collura. “I tuned him pretty good last week to make sure that he was ready. He doesn’t take a lot of work so I’ll just give him a couple of miles and maybe just sprint him an eighth [of a mile] and make sure he’s sharp and ready to go. He’ll come up Thursday and he’ll jog at the training centre Friday and then giddy up on to detention and off we go.”

Since Sweet Lou won his elimination, his connections earned the right to pick their post position for the final along with those of fellow elimination winner Dapper Dude while the rest of the 10-horse field were drawn by New York Rangers’ Michael Del Zotto. Burke won the draw to pick Sweet Lou’s post first and opted for the four-hole.

In doing so, Burke unknowingly chose one of three posts that have yet to produce a winner since the race has been held at Woodbine or Mohawk. The only post four winner in the history of the Cup was Runnymede Lobell, who won the 1989 edition at Greenwood Raceway. Sweet Lou's main rival, Warrawee Needy, drew post eight, which has also only produced winners at Greenwood, including Goalie Jeff in 1989 and Presidential Ball in 1993. The outside post 10 has yet to turn out a winner in all 28 editions of the Cup.

“Four gives me the option to do what I need to do now and I think we need to push forward because two of the better horses drew outside and sitting fourth or fifth I don’t think it’s going to be our deal this week,” reasoned Burke. “I hope to push forward and make them pace around us the whole mile.”

Dave Palone will drive Sweet Lou Saturday night as he attempts to win his first Cup trophy in his own prolific career. The U.S. Hall of Fame reinsman, who is quickly closing in on Herve Filion’s 15,180 all-time win record, last started in the Cup with Fred And Ginger and drove Dave Panlone to a fourth-place finish in 2006 and Aint No Stopn Him to a fifth-place finish in 2000.

Palone and Sweet Lou have proven to be a winning combination as they boast a near perfect record while competing together, which consists of 13 wins and two close second-place finishes in 15 starts for purse earnings totalling $812,995.

“I think Sweet Lou is the kind of horse that most people can drive and that’s not to take anything away from David,” said Burke. “David’s a Hall of Famer. David can get along with 99 per cent of the horses. David’s a great driver and he’s done great for us in the last 20 years so we have all the confidence in the world in him. It’s a good team and we’ll hopefully keep it rolling.”

The Pepsi North America Cup will be part of a special one and a half hour national broadcast on The Score Television Network this Saturday evening from 8:30 to 10:00 p.m.

Mohawk's stellar Saturday program will also feature the $642,000 Fan Hanover Stakes, $530,000 Elegantimage Stakes, $376,000 Armbro Flight Stakes, $351,000 Goodtimes Stakes and the $100,000 Mohawk Gold Cup.

$1.5 Million Pepsi North America Cup
Post Position - Horse - Driver - Morning Line Odds

1 - Bettors Edge - Tim Tetrick - 30-1
2 - Dapper Dude - John Campbell - 8-1
3 - Time To Roll - Andy Miller - 12-1
4 - Sweet Lou - Dave Palone - 3-5
5 - Thinking Out Loud - Randy Waples - 12-1
6 - State Treasurer - David Miller - 20-1
7 - A Rocknroll Dance - Yannick Gingras - 10-1
8 - Warrawee Needy - Jody Jamieson - 9-2
9 - Pet Rock - Brian Sears - 15-1
10 - Simply Business - Ron Pierce - 25-1
AE1 - Easy Again – TBA

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