Reprinted with permission from racingbeard.com
On Saturday, trainer Ron Burke won another five races at Yonkers Raceway to increase his ever widening lead atop the track’s trainer standings less than two months into the new racing season there. Those five wins brought Burke’s seasonal win percentage to 36% (through Saturday) and as he continues to dominate it raises among many questions, two in particular: Is Ron Burke winning at Yonkers too much, and is it having a detrimental effect on the track?
It’s very difficult to prove a correlation between the wild success of a trainer and their impact on track handle, but the year over year numbers at Yonkers do warrant attention. In February of this year, the average Yonkers handle has been $786,733. In contrast, the average handle through February of just last year was $929,411; a decrease this year of over 15%. Six times in February of 2012 the track handle crossed the $1 million mark; this February the nightly handle has not even cracked $900,000. This comes at a time when the Meadowlands announced Tuesday that their all source handle is up 33% since 2012; a 48% swing when compared with Yonkers.
On Saturday where handle was only $858,876 at Yonkers, the first four races of the night were all won by Ron Burke horses. All were front end winners at odds of 3/2, 3/5, 3/5 and even money. While this type of racing is actually common place at Yonkers, one could conclude that a single trainer with entries offering short odds in every race isn’t terrific for business.
In 2011, Yonkers established the recent precedent of barring a trainer without proof of any wrongdoing when Lou Pena was sent packing for the reason of being “not in the best interest of harness racing.” In other words, Lou Pena was winning too much for the liking of racing officials and competing horsemen.
Should Burke maintain a pace at Yonkers resembling anything close to what he has accomplished in the first month and a half of the racing season, he will likely exceed the number of winners that Pena posted there in 2011 prior to his suspension (242). Further, in the last full year prior to his suspension from Yonkers, Pena starters in 2010 earned over $7.2 million. Last year all Burke starters earned $19.8 million and Burke is on record as stating this year his stable goal is to amass 1,000 wins and $20 million in purses – nearly triple what Pena accomplished.
An obvious beneficiary to the Burke success is the young Matt Kakaley. Powered to the top of the standings as the choice driver for all Burke horses at Yonkers, the rising Kakaley leads 2012 driving champion George Brennan and trails only Brian Sears. Ironically, Brennan was committed to all Pena horses in 2010-11 at Yonkers in the same way Kakaley is committed to Burke. While it’s true that the team of Burke and Kakaley don’t always win with the flair you would sometimes see coming from Pena and Brennan, at the end of the day the wins for Burke will pile up more than they did for Pena.
Surely, horsemen at Yonkers who felt Pena was taking from them must feel that same level of resentment now towards Burke. Burke has doubled his closest competitor (Fraley) and is four wins shy of quadrupling everyone else. From the standpoint of integrity, Pena faced continuous and unrelenting scrutiny from Yonkers and New York State racing officials. Burke too – because of his success – finds himself at the center of rumors and innuendo. But whereas Pena was removed due only to the speculation of wrongdoing, there are recent specific Burke incidents one could point to.
In January of last year, Burke’s horse Harlem Rockturne tested positive for Oxycodone after winning a race at the Meadows. Aside from purse distribution no punishment was handed to Burke in this case however, as a groom for the stable testified that the drug was his personally and somehow it came in contact with the horse. In October of 2010 on Juggette Day, Burke’s filly Rock N Soul tested for an excessive level of Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO). Lastly, Burke himself only came to take over the stable in name when father Mickey was suspended by the NJRC for a 2006 Lidocaine positive with Doggone Incredible and another 2007 Lidocaine positive with Smashingpringipisa.
Today at Yonkers, Burke might very well be as deserving as anyone else to be on top in the fashion that he is. With his primary competition removed Burke will continue to tally up the wins and earnings at record setting rates, but will it be in the best interest of harness racing at Yonkers?
— The Racing Beardhttp://racingbeard.com/?p=1008