The Horse That Changed My Life: Karin Olsson-Burgess
by Dave Briggs, courtesy Ontario Racing
(Editor’s Note: This item originally appeared on the Ontario Racing website in 2016 under a section called For The Love Of Racing which still adds new stories weekly. Harness Racing Update will periodically republish some stories from the archives and plans to add original ones here featuring the stories of participants from across the harness racing world)
Karin Olsson-Burgess was just 18 when she saw a job posting in the cafeteria of her home track in Jägersro, Sweden looking for caretakers in Orlando.
“I wanted to go to the United States (and work with trotters) so badly I had already written a letter to Hempt Farm and asked if they had any jobs,” Olsson-Burgess said. “When I saw this ad, I called that same day and came over after I got my visa arranged. It all went very fast.”
In January of 1985, on the first day Olsson-Burgess arrived in the U.S., she landed both the horse and the man that changed her life. The man was her future husband, Ontario native Blair Burgess that she met at a house party on Day One in the USA. The horse was a two-year-old Storm Damage filly out of Beckilyn Hanover named Biel.
“She took me around the whole racing circuit back in those days,” she said. “I learned a lot when I traveled with her on my own at 18. That was back in the days were you could not forget their racing cards in the race office.”
Biel earned more than $122,000 as a two-year-old, with a 3-2-1 record in 12 starts. She also earned Olsson-Burgess a big bonus that the Swede spent on airfare for a 10-day trip to California with Blair.
“I saw an ad in a local paper in Orlando and a guy was selling plane tickets to California in the ad section. I guess he had broken up with his girlfriend and just wanted to get some money back on the tickets,” Olsson-Burgess said. “I met him in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot in Orlando and bought his tickets and flew in his girlfriend’s name and Blair in his name. You could do that back then.
“We flew to Los Angeles and flew home from San Francisco. That was his ticket so Blair and I rented a car and randomly drove around with no care in the world. Some hotels were $15 a night, noting fancy. I spent my whole bonus.”
All that led to an incredible ride for Olsson-Burgess, including being the co-owner and caretaker for such stars as: Meadowlands Pace winner Real Desire (2001, $3.3 million), North America Cup and Little Brown Jug champion Tell All (2007, $1.5 million) and two Hambletonian winners — Amigo Hall (2003, $1 million) and Glidemaster (2005, $2 million) — among many, many more.
“It was all because of Biel,” Olsson-Burgess said. “She got me hooked on American racing and she was a pacer!”