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Burke Brigade's Fearsome Foursome

Published: June 15, 2016 11:57 pm ET

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Ron Burke has two chances to win his second Pepsi North America Cup this Saturday, although his fastest horse from his three NA Cup competitors is the one not racing for a million dollars this weekend.

Burke sent Big Top Hanover, Check Six and Manhattan Beach into last Saturday's eliminations. While Big Top Hanover and Manhattan Beach made the cut, Check Six was just edged out for fifth in the first elim. His individual time of 1:49.4 was faster than the winner of the second elimination, Boston Red Rocks.

"Two things: one, his division was a little tougher and two, he came up not as good as we'd hoped," Burke said of Check Six. "Back to the drawing board a little bit on him, he did scope sick. And the other two, the division wasn't as tough."

His first qualifier was Big Top Hanover (Western Ideal - Blind Ambition), who hasn't missed a cheque since his third lifetime start in July 2015 for owners JT45 LLC of Long Beach, NY and Burke Racing Stable LLC of Fredericktown, PA. But the top five selection in the Trot Magazine Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book is also winless in six starts this year (0-4-2). While finishing second to Boston Red Rocks in his NA Cup elim, a number of changes will be in store for the sophomore come Saturday.

"Basically, 'Big Top' will go on the JK Endofanera route. A somewhat disappointing performance to rigging him and trying to find more pace out of him. But he got a great draw," Burke told Trot Insider. "He'll train on Wednesday. He's been sick but he seems to be getting over it."

JK Endofanera finished third for Burke in the 2014 NA Cup elims. Despite drawing Post 9 for the Final and being dismissed as the fifth choice, driver Brian Sears was able to work out a great trip and JK Endofanera gave Burke his first NA Cup victory. Burke is hopeful lightning can strike twice for driver Yannick Gingras and Big Top Hanover's connections.

"[JK Endofanera] came up terrible in his elim and we did a lot of things different with him, the trip set up and rewarded us with the best result. Brian drove him great and it worked out perfect...that's what I'm looking for here. Round Two, you know...we're going to give Big Top a complete overhaul and find a way to make him a little more happy and hope that he's one more week removed from being sick.

"One thing about Yannick: he will put him in the best spot possible for him to make money. If the horse doesn't do it, it won't be because Yannick doesn't have him where he needed to be. We don't need to go longer miles than the other horses."

Big Top Hanover is listed as the fourth choice on the North America Cup morning line at 6-1. Though feeling his horse can be better, he was also not blown away by the other nine finalists leaving this race up in the air.

"There was nobody that I thought was ultra-impressive. I thought a lot of horses raced good but there was nobody that made me say 'oh my god, that horse was great.' So you hope, because of that, there's a lot of action in the race and we can sneak through and pick up a part.

"Betting Line, his was the best effort of everybody. That whole group, you can make cases for everybody. In the other division, with the exception of the winner, everyone was left scratching their heads saying 'maybe I could have been better than that'."

Certainly a horse that Burke knows can be better is his second NA Cup finalist, Manhattan Beach. Owned by Burke along with Ontario's Geoffrey Lyons Mound, Weaver Bruscemi LLC of Canonsburg, PA, and the Wingfield Brothers LLC of Kenton, OH, the full brother to Burke's 2014 Little Brown Jug winner Limelight Beach has talent but falls short when it comes to luck.

"Manhattan Beach, the bad luck just continues with him. He actually was sneaky sharp last week but started from a bad spot and he's starting from a bad spot again this week. That's how his year has been. He's had chances but he's just not been in the right spot. I still think that horse has a lot of upside but in the end it's likely going to be kick to the back [of the field] and hope for the best."

Saddled with Post 8 and morning line odds of 15-1, Manhattan Beach (Somebeachsomewhere - Benear) has a 1-0-3 record from six starts this year, making the NA Cup Final after a fifth place finish in his elim for driver David Miller. Listed in Trot's NA Cup Spring Book as a top ten selection, Corey Callahan picks up the drive on Manhattan Beach with Miller staying aboard Betting Line.

"Corey's one of my guys. I'm comfortable with guys that I've used before and understand me and how I want my horses raced. Corey does a great job for us so when Yannick told me he was available I said 'he'll drive the one you don't."

Even though he's won this race before, Burke still has a strong desire to take home another Pepsi North America Cup trophy, as it represents a race he holds in high regard.

"In reality, to me, it should be part of the Triple Crown. I've always said the Triple Crown should be [the North America Cup], the Meadowlands Pace and the Little Brown Jug. To horsemen, I think that is our Triple Crown. If you ask 'on the pacing side, what three races do you want to win?' you never get tired of trying to win that race.

"I'm excited, I don't have the best two but I have two and I have a chance so I'm thrilled to race in it."

His other two stakes horses on Saturday night rate on the other end of the favouritism spectrum. Hannelore Hanover was the most impressive of the competitors in the Armbro Flight elims, winning in a lifetime best 1:52.2. Trotting colt Dayson also stamped himself as the one to beat in the Goodtimes by virtue of his 1:53.2 score in his elim.

"That's the opposite. With them I go in very confident and couldn't have had better performances. Everything's going good with them up to this week, they're both coming in razor sharp and continue to be that way...someone is going to have to step up to beat either one of them."

Owned by Burke, Weaver Bruscemi and Frank Baldachino of New Jersey, Hannelore Hanover (Swan For All - High Sobriety) has raced six times in the last two months and never trotted slower than 1:53. But it was her race at Miami Valley Raceway in May that punched her ticket to the Armbro Flight.

"When we first tested her in Miami Valley, it was against similar type horses, she really handled them pretty easily in track record time. That's when we started thinking ... no Bee A Magician, Shake It Cerry isn't as sharp as she has been in the past, really the rest of them are very nice mares but no great mares. Hopefully if this mare is as good as we think she is maybe she can do some damage."

After the Armbro Flight, the sky is the limit in terms of future stakes engagements as Burke notes Hannelore Hanover is eligible to "everything" down the road.

"Last year I said to Yannick I really think she's the best three-year-old behind Mission Brief and Wild Honey. And I thought those were two of the best in the last few years."

Even some in Burke's camp started wondering if Hannelore Hanover could in fact defeat Mission Brief if the two raced against each other.

"Not to knock Hannelore, because I love her, but you realize Mission Brief went ten lengths faster than that as a two-year-old," noted Burke. "I think Mission Brief has proven herself to be special without a doubt."

Hannelore Hanover is the 6-5 choice in the $267,000 Armbro Flight Final. Two races later, Dayson goes to the post as the 2-1 morning line favourite in the $243,000 Goodtimes Final for three-year-old trotting colts.

"He's a pretty special horse; that mile at Tioga was one of the better performances any horse out of my barn has ever done. You just don't see horses parked and setting track records by eight lengths. He was a very good horse when we bought him."

One of his stiffest tests for future contests, again, could just happen to come from down the shedrow in stablemate Southwind Frank.

"Same thing, I don't know if he wants any part of that one. We've trained them together; at least training, he doesn't give you the idea that he could beat him. They're both very nice horses, I love that we have two horses of that calibre."

Purchased privately by Burke along with Our Horse Cents Stables, J And T Silva Stables LLC and Rossie Smith of New York, Dayson (Conway Hall - Nerveys Taurus) is 3-for-4 for Burke this season and 10-for-12 lifetime. He'll leave from Post 5.

“I think he fits well with that (Goodtimes) group,” Burke said about Dayson, who has earned $237,562 in his career. “It’s not the best colts out there, but it’s an even bunch. He’s nice. He’s a very good horse...He’ll do well in the spots we put him in.”

To view the entries for Saturday's card at Mohawk or a free program for Mohawk’s Saturday card, courtesy of TrackIT, click on one of the following links: Saturday Entries -- Saturday Program Pages.

The Pepsi North America Cup is the centerpiece of Mohawk’s fantastic Saturday card of racing that will also feature the $438,000 final of the Fan Hanover Stakes (which will showcase three-year-old pacing fillies), the $370,000 final of the Roses Are Red (pacing mares), the $267,000 final of the Armbro Flight (trotting mares), the $268,000 final of the Goodtimes Stakes (three-year-old trotting colts), and the $100,000 Mohawk Gold Cup (invitational pacers).

TSN2 will televise the Cup final live on Saturday. First-race post time for Mohawk’s Saturday card of racing is 6:30 p.m. The NA Cup has been slotted as Race 12 on the 15-dash card and has an approximate post time of 10:40 p.m.

Mohawk will offer three Pick-4 wagers Saturday, including an All Stakes Pick-4 with a $100,000 guaranteed pool, comprising Races 9 through 12 and featuring the Roses Are Red, Mohawk Gold Cup, Fan Hanover and Pepsi North America Cup.

Photos clockwise from top left: Big Top Hanover (Nigel Soult), Hannelore Hanover (New Image Media), Manhattan Beach (Chris Gooden), Dayson (New Image Media)

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