Ron Burke has quite the resume as a trainer in harness racing. In May, he became the first trainer to amass more than $100 million in career purses and in 2013, the first trainer to surpass $20 million in one year and 1,000 wins in a single season.
In spite of all his accomplishments, Burke has yet to win the signature race at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, which is fewer than 10 miles away from his Canonsburg home. His father, Mickey, won when he was an assistant trainer in 2007.
Burke will have two horses competing for his first blanket of orchids today at the Delvin Miller Adios Pace for the Orchids: At Press Time, competing out of the third post position, and Carracci Hanover, racing from the No. 9 position.
For Burke and his ownership group, Weaver Bruscemi LLC, winning the hometown race has been a long sought-after achievement.
“It’s been our biggest goal,” Burke said. “That’d be great.”
Burke isn’t the only local with a stake in this race. Wendy Cameron and her 88-year-old mother, Nan, of Cam Land LLC entered Adios for the first time, and their horse, Cammikey, will race from the No. 1 position.
The Washington, Pa., natives have long held a presence in harness racing; Wendy’s father, Wilfred, was an instrumental figure in opening the Meadows racetrack. It’s fitting, perhaps, that the family’s first entry has a chance to compete for the win.
“If we couldn’t win, I’d love to see them win it,” Burke said of the Camerons and Cammikey.
Cammikey’s trainer is Bill Zendt, who realizes the significance of this race for his owners and hopes to see it through to a victory. While he admits winning from the rail won’t be easy — the four and five positions are the best, he says — he believes Cammikey has the talent to compete, at the very least.
“It would be quite a thrill, it would be just unbelievable,” Zendt said of winning for the Camerons. “He’s close. He has the ability.”
All three local horses will have their work cut out for them if they’re to beat this year’s favorite, McWicked, who has won four of his past five races and won his elimination race last Saturday. McWicked will be racing from the No. 2 position, and even Burke admits that he is odds are highly in his favor.
“I don’t know if I see a scenario with him getting beat,” Burke said. “He drew an eat spot, he has a great trainer, he has a great driver. He really doesn’t have a lot of holes in his armor.”
McWicked’s trainer is Casie Coleman, who began training the horse in early May. When she began working with him, she knew he’d be good — just not this good.
Coleman figures her strongest competition will come from Somewhere In L A, racing from the No. 5 position, and Let’s Drink On It, coming from the No. 7 position. Somewhere in L A is trained by Jimmy Takter, who is looking for his second consecutive blanket of orchids and his third in the last six years.
Still, both Burke and Zendt expect to stay competitive. While Burke figures it to be near impossible for Carracci Hanover to win out of the No. 9 position, he thinks At Press Time has as good a chance as any to compete with McWicked in what he believes to be an even field in spots two through nine.
Not to mention the fact that Burke has lost as the favorite at Adios before, a race that he and Zendt agree has a knack for welcoming the unexpected.
“The Adios has somewhat become the graveyard of champions and it really has become an unpredictable race,” Burke said. “That’s our best chance, for something odd to happen.”
•NOTE — The Meadows will offer four pool guarantees totaling $42,500 during today’s race card, with three of the four multirace wagers incorporate the Adios final (race 12): $20,000 guaranteed Pick 4 (races 9-12), $10,000 guaranteed Pick 4 (races 4-7), $7,500 guaranteed Pick 3 (races 11-13), $5,000 guaranteed Pick 5 (races 12-16). First post time is 12:30 p.m.
Jourdon LaBarber: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @jourdonlabarber.