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Faces Of Racing: Luke Burke

Published: July 8, 2019 12:22 pm ET

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Leading up to the National Caretaker Appreciation Day events taking place on the weekend of July 19-21, Standardbred Canada will be profiling caretakers from across the country in our Faces of Racing series. The series is continuing with Luke Burke of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Many horsepeople in harness racing started their love affair with Standardbreds and the industry at an early age. Throughout the history of our sport, many successful trainers and drivers give credit to their early years of learning the ropes inside the barn, often in the role of a caretaker for a family member or close family friend’s stable.

Thirteen-year-old Luke Burke, of Charlottetown, PE, is following in the footsteps of some of those great horsepeople. The teen spends his free time working with the Melissa Rennie and Adam Merner Stable.

Luke found himself in the barn after school and on races days nearly three years ago at age ten. His uncle, Robin Burke, took him to Red Shores at Charlottetown Driving Park to see his horse, a Camluck gelding, Stonebridge Wish race. As Luke recalls, “I was hooked instantly.”

Luke Burke, pictured at Red Shores’ Charlottetown Driving Park.

“One of the biggest challenges as a young caretaker is trying to juggle school work and my love and commitment to horse racing,” he says.

Luke’s commitment to learning stretches well beyond the classroom, as he credits many local island horsepeople to his continued lessons in and around the barn, such as Ambyr Campbell, Brian MacPhee and Trevor Hicken.

“My uncle Robin, as well as Melissa Rennie and Adam Merner encouraged me to become a caretaker. They are great horsepeople and I am able to learn so much about taking care of the horses from them. For anyone interested in a role as a caretaker, I recommend they find a good horseman to show them the ropes like I did.”

Melissa Rennie, is quick to point out how great of a worker Luke is in the barn. “He is hands-on and eager to learn,” she says. “He is one of the best on our team, and we are very lucky to have him. By having the next generation like Luke interested and directly involved, our sport is able to grow.”

Some of Luke’s responsibilities at the barn include brushing, bathing, cleaning harnesses, applying equipment for race time, the overall well-being of the horse, along with sneaking treats to the horses in his care.

“One of my favourite memories as a caretaker was when I first paddocked Innocent Kiss, a four-year-old Westwardho Hanover mare, and she won the open mares pace,” stated Luke, who went on to say, “One of my favourite horses in the barn is an eight-year-old Somebeachsomewhere gelding, Big Surf – he has been patient and shown me a lot in the past couple of years.”

(Left, courtesy Melissa Rennie) Luke Burke pictured with Big Surf; (Right, courtesy Abby Clow) Luke Burke pictured with Innocent Kiss.

“To me, the definition of good horsemanship is to always cater to your horse’s needs no matter how hard it might be, and, of course, to treat other horsemen with respect.”

Luke’s three tips to success as a caretaker in our sport are quite simple: a good night’s sleep, be prepared for anything, and treat the horse with respect no matter how good or bad they race.

“The most rewarding aspect working as a caretaker is when you have a horse win when you least expect it out of how much heart that horse has,” he says.

“My favourite time of year as a caretaker is foaling season. I look forward to the spring because I like to see the potential for the future stake winner; which leads me to another favourite season of mine, stake season,” shares Luke.

Looking ahead to his future involvement in harness racing, Luke would like to learn more about the roles of the trainers and drivers. He is looking forward to the day where he can apply for his trainer’s license. Like all Island horsepeople, Luke has a major race on his bucket list he hopes to one day check off and that is the prestigious Gold Cup & Saucer. But, for now, Luke is content learning as much as he can both in the classroom and in the barn; from the great horsepeople he is exposed to and watching his three-year-old colt, Donttellthawife, gear up for a summer of racing.

Leading up to NCAD events during the weekend of July 19-21 at racetracks across the country, Standardbred Canada has organized a NCAD Photo Contest to recognize the hard-working caretakers in our industry and we want your submissions! Click here to learn more.

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