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Robert 'Bob' Burgess Passes

Published: April 5, 2021 7:02 pm ET

Last Comment: April 7, 2021 3:01 pm ET | 11 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Longtime harness racing industry participant and Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famer Robert 'Bob' Burgess, Q.C. of Rockwood, Ont. passed away on Saturday, April 3 at the age of 85.

Bob was born in Peterborough, Ont. When he was in Grade 11, he moved with his family to Quebec City where he and his brother, Dick, developed a passion for harness racing and betting on Standardbreds. Bob graduated from McGill University and then from Osgoode Hall Law School. Bob and Dick were practicing law in downtown Toronto, and frequented Greenwood Raceway. They eventually claimed pacer Danny Duke for $3,125 in the late 1960s, the start of decades of horse ownership that continued to this day. 

Eventually, Bob, Dick and their father, Bert, under the Tri-Burgess Stable bought a broodmare and became breeders. Bob then established Haw Lea Stud Farms with Glenn Anderson, bringing trotting stallion High Level to Ontario as one of the first trotting stallions of note to stand in the province during the 1970s. That farm paved the way for what would be Cantario Farms, founded by Burgess with legal partner John MacDonald in the mid-1970s. Cantario became one of the leading breeders of Standardbred horses in Canada during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Bob Burgess receives his Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame ring from Jamie Martin

A lawyer specializing first in the corporate world in Toronto before shifting in equine law when he moved to Campbellville, Bob believed his biggest contribution was incorporating and acting as counsel for the Ontario Standardbred Improvement Association (now known as the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association) that resulted in the formation of the much-heralded Ontario Sires Stakes program. “For the better part of his adult life my father has lived and breathed racing,” said his son Blair. “From just attending the races as a small-time gambler and racing fan to stepping up and claiming his first horse, he never would have imagined a person such as he, with no farm or horse background, would make harness racing his life work.”

Burgess' most notable achievement as a breeder was syndicating Balanced Image, introducing the great trotting sire to Canada. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, Balanced Image produced more winners than any trotter in history, including two Hambletonian winners. His progeny earned more than $110 million.

Robert has co-owned many champions over the years trained by his son, Blair, for the family. The first major star was Amity Chef, the pacer of the year in 1986. The next year, Frugal Gourmet won the $1 million Meadowlands Pace. A year after that, Road Machine won the Metro Pace.

2003 Hambletonian winner Amigo Hall

Real Desire, a winner of $3.3 million won Horse of the Year honours in 2002 and was inducted into the Hall in 2008. In 2003, the family scored its first Hambletonian triumph when Amigo Hall was victorious. Three years later, Armbro Deuce won the Confederation Cup and Glidemaster delivered the Hambletonian, trotting Triple Crown and U.S. horse of the year award.

In 2007, Tell All won the family its first North America Cup and Little Brown Jug. Tell All shared Canada’s horse of the year award that year with two-year-old Somebeachsomewhere.

In 2010, Robert picked up another O’Brien Award with his homebred two-year-old, Blue Porsche who won as Canada’s top two-year-old trotting colt. Blue Porsche, the winner of the Valley Victory at Woodbine Racetrack in 2010 and Goodtimes Stakes at Mohawk in 2011, is a son of Glidemaster.

Heather Burgess, Pam Burgess, Robert Burgess receive the O’Brien trophy for Blue Porsche from SC's Darryl Kaplan.

Bob also was involved early in and one of his homebreds, Lawmaker, was one of the fractional ownership group's early successes, starting in the Hambletonian.

Aside from his success with racing and breeding stock, Burgess held leadership positions in several industry associations over the years. He is past vice-president of the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society (the predecessor to Standardbred Canada) and was a longtime director of the Board for the Ontario Jockey Club and Woodbine Entertainment Group.

Upon his induction into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, he deferred credit to his success to those around him, speaking proudly of his son who trains the horses and his late wife who handled much of the business end of the game for the family. “I actually think Blair and Vera did more than I did. They’re not in the Hall of Fame. She never will be, but Blair will be.” Robert's words came to fruition when Blair joined the Hall in 2017.

A tireless advocate for the Standardbred industry, Bob's legal work later in life focused on representing horsepeople. He was also a key participant in the breeders' lawsuit against the Province of Ontario, providing information and testifying on the industry's behalf.

Bob is survived by his dedicated and caring wife Heather and her family, and his five children from his first wife, the late Vera: Blair (Karin), Timothy (Lan), Pamela (Michael), Stephanie (Stephen) and Katherine (Christopher). Bob is also survived by his 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Bob also leaves his brother Richard (Odette), sister-in-law Vera (Carl, deceased), while predeceased by sister-in-law Eva (George, deceased).

A small private family service will be held. Donations can be made in Bob's name to the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society.

Please join Standardbred Canada in offering condolences to the family and friends of Robert Burgess.

(with files from the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame)

April 7, 2021 - 3:01 pmCondolences to the Burgess

Condolences to the Burgess family. Linda and I had great respect for Bob. He was always a gentleman and his opinions were always appreciated. It is a damn shame that our Provincial government didn't see fit to honour the judges decision and settle the government's obligations re the Standardbred breeders lawsuit while Bob was alive to savour his victory. Thanks so much Bob for your wonderful leadership! RIP

April 7, 2021 - 9:23 amIn 1984 I got suspended from

Garth Gordon SAID...

In 1984 I got suspended from driving for 30 days. I appealed and ask Bob to defend me. I can still remember the phone call from Bob telling me that we had won the appeal. The horse racing community has lost a hard working caring person. My Condolences to the family R.I.P.

April 6, 2021 - 3:55 pmThere is always that one

There is always that one person who helps us be successful in this business and Bob was that for us. We moved here to work for Cantario Farms. Gary trained and I worked with Vera on the breeding end. When we went on our own to start Gary Bourgon Stables, Bob gave us our first horse.
He was smart, and tough and I have the utmost respect for him. Blessings to Blair, Tim, Stephanie, Pam and Katherine.
The Bourgon family honours him today

April 6, 2021 - 12:43 pmThe industry has lost a huge

The industry has lost a huge voice with the passing of Mr Burgess.
My sincere condolences to the entire Burgess Family and friends.

April 6, 2021 - 11:59 amMy sincerest condolences to

John Horchik SAID...

My sincerest condolences to the Burgess family.
R.I.P. Bob.

April 6, 2021 - 11:24 amBack in the late '60s when I

Back in the late '60s when I first met Bob, no one could have predicted that this man and his family would be all in when it came to Harness Racing. The impact of Bob's advocacy and willingness to move forward are a matter of record, his memory defined by the horses and awards that he and Blair developed, not withstanding that, his greatest asset was his family. Rest easy old friend.
Brian and Gay Webster.

April 6, 2021 - 7:34 amBlair and Family, please

chris coyle SAID...

Blair and Family, please accept my condolences on your loss. I always enjoyed visiting with him at the yearling sales to learn some racing history. Your Dad was a great father, owner, spokesman and historian for our breed.
RIP Mr Burgess


April 5, 2021 - 10:53 pmWe have lost another giant in

Jack Darling SAID...

We have lost another giant in our industry. Ann and I send our deepest condolences to Blair and the rest of the family.

April 5, 2021 - 9:04 pmBlair and the rest of the

Gord Brown SAID...

Blair and the rest of the Burgess family I am so sorry for your loss, a class act. R.I.P Bob.

April 5, 2021 - 7:59 pmBlair, your dad was an icon,

Blair, your dad was an icon, not only in the horse racing community but also in the legal community. I always appreciated Bob's candour and commitment while speaking with him. He had an opinion and would support it with intelligence, gravitas and persuasion. If one disagreed with Bob Burgess you had better be prepared to defend your point of view. Your father was an exceptional man who made the world a better place. Most sincere condolences to you Blair and the entire Burgess family with the loss of your patriarch. May Bob rest in peace.

April 5, 2021 - 7:30 pmMy condolences to the Burgess

My condolences to the Burgess family. RIP Bob.

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