Lifetime Achievement Award For Burke

Published: November 1, 2019 01:00 pm EDT

When Mickey Burke, Sr. started driving harness horses in 1956 the reinsmen wore soft caps and the sulky wheels were “open” and had no plastic safety discs.

He still remembers those days well, along with the first horse he ever bought.

“Hickory Buzz was a son of Phonograph and I purchased him, a single axle horse trailer, all of his equipment, several tack trucks, three jog carts, and two race bikes along with pitch forks, muck baskets, feed tubs and water buckets for the princely sum of $600,” Burke recalls.

“After I loaded all of the stuff that came as part of this package deal, I had to go back and make a second trip to the seller’s barn to pick up the horse...all because the truck and trailer was overflowing with tack.”

Mickey Sr. campaigned around the fair circuits in Ohio and Pennsylvania and also enjoyed success with show horses. But training and driving horses was really just a hobby for the octogenarian during the sixties and seventies. Burke owned a successful car dealership in Western Pennsylvania for several decades.

But, in 1981 a gentlemen offered to buy the dealership and he and his wife Sylvia never looked back. He started his own stable with a few cheap claimers and eventually amassed 3,167 wins and $35 million in earnings since training records began in 1991.

Fast forward to 2009 when a health scare prompted Mickey Sr. to turn the operation over to his son, Ronnie, and the sport’s biggest stable was well on its way.

Now, the eldest Burke is known as the patriarch of the most successful horse racing stable in the world, with earnings over $230 million. With over 200 horses in training, Burke Racing and the Burke Brigade are synonymous with always having top Grand Circuit horses in every division, as well as filling the entry box at overnight tracks all over the East coast and Midwest.

Although his son Ronnie has been the CEO of Burke Racing for the last decade, the organization is still very much a family affair. Sylvia is the stable’s bookkeeper and Mickey, Jr. and Michelle oversee various aspects of the Pennsylvania operations. Although Melissa and Becky work in the health care industry, they still own race horses and attend many of the big Standardbred events.

One would think that people with this kind of super success would take it easy at age 83. Not Mickey Burke, Sr.

He still goes to the barn every day, jogging and training horses, talking to owners, and applying his over half-century of harness racing expertise to the stable.

When the Monticello-Goshen Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association holds their 61st annual Awards Banquet, on Sunday, December 15, 2019, Mickey Burke, Sr. will receive the chapter’s highest honour, their Lifetime Achievement Award.

This year, in addition to the year-end awards for horses and horse people from the local tracks, the Monticello-Goshen chapter will also honour Noelle Duspiva (Excelsior Award); Larry Lederman (John Gilmour Good Guy Award); Purple Haze Stable (Cradle of the Trotter Breeders Award); Barbara Martinez (Amy Bull Crist Distinguished Service Award); Dave Brower (Phil Pines Award); Tony Verruso (Amateur Driver; Joe Chindano, Jr. (Rising Star); and Donald Bickle (Award of Appreciation).

Tickets for the gala event at The Fountains at Wallkill Golf Club, Middletown, NY, can be reserved by contacting Shawn Wiles at (845) 794-4100 extension 458 or Email: [email protected].

(Monticello-Goshen Chapter of USHWA)