Burke suspension again reduced

For the second time Fraser Downs trainer/driver Jim Burke has had his suspension reduced.

After an administrative review hearing on March 14, the review panel -- chair George Morfitt, Peter Ellickson and Brian Middleton -- concluded there were mitigating factors that had to be considered in determining a penalty.

As a result the panel recommended the Feb. 11, 2003 reconsideration decision of the acting director Sam Hawkins "be varied and that James Burke be suspended and denied the privileges of the Fraser Downs grounds for a period of 60 days, Jan. 27, 2003 to March 27, 2003 inclusive and fined the sum of $5,000."

That means that Burke will return to action this weekend but only in Saturday's Delta Pace Stakes where two horses he did train and drive are entered. He will drive one of Yumyum Candy or Bo Magnolia, which was still to be determined at this time. He will return to full action next weekend.

The original ruling by the judges presiding at Fraser Downs had given Burke a suspension from Jan. 27, 2003 to Dec. 31, 2005. They had ruled Burke "did manipulate the past performance of the horse Proberts Punch allowing Burke and other people linked together to profit from bets made on the sixth race on Jan. 11."

After an internal reconsideration, the first change was announced Feb. 11 by Hawkins, acting director of racing of the Racing Division of the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch of B.C. At the Feb. 6 reconsideration, Hawkins, after studying evidence decided that Burke be denied the privileges of the grounds for a period of 120 days, Jan. 27, 2003 to May 26, 2003, inclusive, and fined the sum of $5,000.

At the March 14 hearing, there was a presentation by Burke's counsel, and calling of witnesses.

From that the findings of the review panel were:

". Mr. Burke, the horse's driver, on December 29, 2002, for undetermined reasons, did not permit the horse to run to his potential on that date;

. the bets made on the horse by Mr. Burke, the horse's driver, on January 11, 2003 were not permitted; and

. these actions by Mr. Burke were detrimental to the best interests of harness racing.

In making these determinations the Review Panel had regard to, but did not consider itself bound to follow the opinions of either the Judges in the first instance, or the Acting Director following his review of the evidence before him concerning in both cases the subjective assessment of the manner in which Mr. Burke ran his horse on December 29, 2002.

The Review Panel heard evidence that the horse may have, unknown to Mr. Burke, been less than fully fit due to respiratory infection. There was also evidence concerning the inexperience of the horse and the inconstancies of performance to be expected of a two year old horse. Mr. Burke and the witnesses led by Mr. Muldoon (Burke's counsel) gave evidence of potential explanations for why the horse may not have run better, in particular during the first half of the December 29 race.

A careful consideration by the Review Panel of the video tape evidence indicates a lack of effort on the part of Mr. Burke to run the horse to its potential on December 29. The horse was not moved from its inside position, the gap in front was not closed notwithstanding a slow pace, and no other effort to improve position is apparent. When compared to the marked and unusual degree of improvement in the horse's performance on January 11, 2003, the Review Panel has concluded there is convincing evidence the horse was not run to its potential on December 29.

Accordingly, the Review Panel finds that Mr. Burke is in violation of the following rules of Horse Racing in British Columbia (revised rule numbering in brackets):

. 932 (1)(j) [249(1)(j)] A driver shall not, during a race, lay off a normal pace and leave a hole behind a horse in front, when it is within the capacity of the driver's horse to keep the hole closed;

. 934(2) [251(2)] A driver shall not drive a horse in an unsatisfactory manner due to lack of effort;

.934(3) [251(3)] A driver shall not drive a horse in a manner which, in the opinion of the Judges, is unsatisfactory for any reason;

. 644(3)[GCR 40(5)(b)] A driver shall only be allowed to wager on a race in which he/she is driving if the wager is on his/her own horse to win;

. 647(55)[75(30)] No person shall do anything, which in the opinion of the Director or the Stewards/Judges, is detrimental to the best interests of racing. (Wording is from revised rule 75(30).)

In regard to the finding that the bets made on the horse by Mr. Burke January 11, 2003 were not permitted, testimony at the Hearing suggests that rule 644(3) [GCR40(5)(b)] was not well understood by the drivers nor enforced by the Judges. The Review Panel considers that these circumstances mitigate against the levying of a severe penalty on Mr. Burke in connection with this rule infraction.

Although there was no evidence establishing that Mr. Burke manipulated or was responsible for the betting activity which occurred on January 11 (other than the bets he placed himself), the results of that betting activity were facilitated by the poor performance of the horse on December 29,and the results of the betting activity in the view of the Review Panel were injurious to public confidence in the integrity of racing. That outcome is a relevant factor to be taken into account when assessing the seriousness of Mr. Burke's infraction."

- 30 -