Burgess humbled by Hall of Fame honor
Two-time Hambletonian winning trainer Blair Burgess will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in August.
by Dave Briggs
Trainer Blair Burgess said he often enjoys reading the plaques at the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame (CHRHOF) at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. He said the fact his name and bio will soon be joining some of the biggest legends in horse racing history is a bit overwhelming and humbling.
On Tuesday (April 4) it was announced that Burgess will be among the 2017 class of inductees to the CHRHOF. He will be officially inducted Aug. 9 at a gala in Mississauga, ON.
“When I do get the time to look at (the displays) at Woodbine, I enjoy doing that. I read the blurbs and it’s interesting to get a sense of the history of the game when you are there,” Burgess said Thursday. “I am something of a museum buff.”
Burgess will join his father — lawyer, breeder and owner Bob Burgess — in the Hall of Fame. Bob was inducted as a builder in 2011.
“(Dad) called and I think he was (proud),” Blair said. “He wouldn’t admit it to me, but he is.”
Blair, a 55-year-old self-professed city kid from Toronto, said racing horses is “all I’ve ever done. I was raised in it, being a ‘track rat’ because my father was crazy enough to claim horses. I used to go to the runners just as much, watching Avelino Gomez as much as Ronnie Feagan, but then it changed over when he owned cheap claimers on the standardbred side and then we hardly went to Woodbine (to watch the thoroughbreds) anymore.”
Of his Hall of Fame honor, Blair said, “It shows you don’t have to be a farm kid to get in. You can be a city kid.”
Blair has accumulated 1,040 wins and earnings of over $27.6 million as a trainer, including two victories in the Hambletonian (Amigo Hall in 2003 and Glidemaster in 2006), two in the Meadowlands Pace (Frugal Gourmet in 1987, Real Desire in 2002), plus wins in the Little Brown Jug (Tell All in 2007), the North America Cup (Tell All in 2007), the Kentucky Futurity, the Trotting Triple Crown (Glidemaster in 2006) and a Breeders Crown (Real Desire, 2001).
Blair received an O’Brien Award as Canada’s Trainer of the Year in 2007. He was also named Canada’s Trainer of the Year in 1987 before the O’Brien Awards were started. Blair has trained winners of seven O’Brien Awards, and nine Dan Patch Awards. Real Desire was named the Horse of the Year in Canada and the United States in 2002, Tell All shared Canada’s Horse of the Year Award with Somebeachsomewhere in 2007 and Glidemaster was named the U.S. Horse of the Year and Trotter of the Year in 2006. Two of Blair’s trainees have been named the U.S. Pacer of the Year — Real Desire in 2002 and Tell All in 2007.
Horses trained by Blair that earned in excess of $1 million include Real Desire, Glidemaster, Tell All, Western Ideal, Amity Chef, Quality Western and Amigo Hall.
Blair said he owes at least half of his Hall of Fame honor to his wife, Karin Olsson-Burgess.
“If an award can ever be shared it is definitely half Karin’s,” Blair said. “I know everybody says that and it has become cliché, but with me it’s true. She made just as many of the training and management decisions on the good horses, and cleaned a heck of a lot more stalls. Honorable mention to my two lifetime second trainers (Bill Rapson and James Carmichael).
“Plus, this wouldn’t have happened at all without my father at first and my connection to Brittany Farms — George Segal, Myron Bell and Art Zubrod.
“Art (and his wife) Leah personally bred Real Desire, not Brittany. But he was raised on George’s Bluegrass. In fact, my best horses all came out of same field at Brittany — Real Desire, Glidemaster and even Western Ideal was there.”
Blair said he has been humbled by the number of people who have contacted him to congratulate him on his Hall of Fame honor and he wants to thank everyone that took the time to send him a message — whether it was on HRU’s Facebook page, where a long list of messages were left, or elsewhere. He said he hasn’t had time to respond to many of the messages, yet, but wants everyone know they are deeply appreciated.
“Some people I was surprised… some people left me messages that I barely know, plus, a lot of good friends and acquaintances sent messages, too. So I got well wishes from all over the place and, because of the world we live in, it came from everything – Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, text messages, email. A lot of different directions.”
As for the reaction at home, he joked his family isn’t treating him any differently.
“I’m definitely not regarded as Hall of Fame at home. I just got, ‘Don’t think you’re any smarter,’” Burgess said, laughing.
“My only parting thought is that the bittersweet part of it is that the sport that I made my hay in, and was recognized in, is one that maybe my kid’s kids – if they have any – won’t know about. I’m a little bit concerned that it’s a business now and I hope it’s not a fading business.”