Burkes Going Fishing

There's another couple of trainers leaving Fraser Downs.

However, they are not following the exodus to Alberta or Ontario, they are off on an adventure of their own.

'"We are really excited," Heather Burke said recently of the life decision she and husband Tom have made -- that is to retire and move to Tumbler Ridge where they have bought a home.

After coming to B.C. in 1976 for the first year at the Downs (nee Cloverdale Raceway) and intending to stay for six months, the Burkes are "going fishing."

Why Tumbler Ridge and why now?

"Tom's coming up to 65 and ready to get his pensions," Heather started. "I sold my interest in the fish company we had," Tom continued. "Then we think the move will be good for my health and I have to lose some weight."

"Two years ago we saw the houses in Tumbler Ridge being advertised (the mine closure was forcing many people to leave the town and houses were available inexpensively)," Heather said. "We went up and took a look and liked the area, it is beautiful. We realized you probably couldn't build a cottage for the price. Last year when coming home from (racing at) Calgary we went through Tumbler Ridge and decided to buy. It is a nice town, it has a lot of churches and schools and fishing and curling."

And Tom added it has a large boarding stable for horses and is quite close to the track in Grande Prairie where they have a five-week meet.

"I don't think we will get out of the horse business totally," said Tom, who went to his first race in 1952 at Thorncliffe Park in Ontario. "We will still have a couple of young horses and might even bring them down here."

As might be expected the Burkes have plenty of memories.

"We have seen a lot of things," Tom admitted.

Top memories include training for Morris McDonald in Ontario, the opening of Sandown Raceway in Sidney, the time Tom was kicked by a horse and was in the hospital for eight weeks.

"I was concussed, broke my shoulder and I remember blood all over the place," Tom explained. "Joe and Shirley Hudon were great, taking right over to help with our horses."

Speaking of horses the Burkes remember having such good horses ("It's tough to pick one or two") as Face Facts, Magical Alf, Aries Ridge, Honest JJ, Classic Command, Evil Wabbit and Magic Rice.

"I remember he (Magic Rice) was knocked down once in a race but still got up and won," Tom stated and Heather added that "He was a favorite with the Chinese (patrons)."

Many of their top memories include, of course, their sons -- Boyd and Jim who are well known trainer/drivers at the Downs.

The boys, who were 12 and 8 when they came to B.C., have always been at the track even when Jim was a baby and slept in the straw under the watchful eye of Boyd (and all the "aunts and uncles" who also looked in).

So how did they happen to get here in the first place.

"We were racing at Mohawk in Ontario when Jim (Keeling, Sr.) asked us if we would bring some horses to race at his new track. We said OK, planned to stay for six months but never returned for more than a holiday," Heather explained.

Now the Burkes can begin a long holiday and they say that "you're all invited to visit."

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