By Ken Weingartner, USTA Media — A crowd of more than 300 people gathered Sunday evening (July 3) at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame to celebrate the induction of the Hall of Fame class of 2022.
Driver Yannick Gingras, trainers Ron Burke and George Teague Jr., and trainer-driver Chris Boring led the group, which was honored during the annual induction dinner on the Museum lawn.
Also inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday were immortals Aime Choquette, Sterling Elliott, Chip Noble and Bill Mulligan, as well as horses Andover Hall, Credit Winner, Presidential Ball, Great Memories and In A Safe Place.
Going into the Communicators Hall of Fame were Jay Bergman and Joe Kyle.
Burke is the top trainer in harness racing history in both wins, with more than 12,700, and purses, with nearly $280 million. He has led all trainers in North America in both categories each of the past 13 years and received the Trainer of the Year Award three times.
“I don’t like people talking about me, but I love taking about myself,” Burke said to laughter as he began his speech. He thanked his family, numerous horsemen associated with his career, and his owners over the years.
One of the drivers who has played a big role in Burke’s career is Gingras, with the two teaming to win countless major stakes races.
“When we started making the move (east), he was the first guy out there that believed in me, that we could do something special. It meant a lot. We grew up together. We did it together. We moved up from Freehold to the Meadowlands to the Grand Circuit. That’s meant a lot.”
Among Burke’s numerous stars were 2017 Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover and Hall of Fame pacer Foiled Again, who retired in 2018 with 109 wins and a record $7.63 million in purses.
“I can’t thank (Foiled Again) enough for what he’s done for me and my family,” Burke said, “and probably the biggest thing, reminded me why I love horses.
“Hannelore was my first Horse of the Year. I can’t ever forget her. She is going to have a baby this year; it’s supposed to be wonderful. Hopefully, we’ll get it. We’ll see. Everybody save up.”
He concluded by congratulating his fellow inductees.
“We made it,” Burke said. “It’s hard. It really is. It’s hard.”
Gingras, a native of Quebec, moved to the United States in 2001 at the age of 21 and two years later was the sport’s Rising Star Award winner. He led the sport in annual earnings four times — 2014 through 2017 — and he was named Driver of the Year in 2014 and 2017.
“This definitely means a lot,” Gingras said. “It’s not something that I really thought about when I first started out, when I first came to the U.S. You’re driving against the best of the best. But it’s always been my mentality to be a small fish in a big pond. That’s how you get better. I believe that racing against the best is how you become the best.”
For his career, Gingras has earned more than $206 million in purses, the sixth most in history. He has won more than 8,100 races including 24 Breeders Crown finals, also the sixth most in history, as well as countless other Grand Circuit stakes.
Gingras got emotional during his speech while talking about his family, even speaking directly to his family in French for a couple minutes, as well as when discussing the horsemen who helped him throughout his career, among them Burke and trainers Mark Ford and Jimmy Takter.
“Ronnie, it’s so fitting that me and you are going in at the same time,” Gingras said, later adding, “I figure it’s been about 15 years now we’ve been working together and I wouldn’t change a thing. The security and the loyalty you’ve given me over the last 15 years, it’s not normal in this business. You’re a family guy as well. I can take days off and never have to worry about being taken off a horse. It’s something so important to me so that I can be with (my family). I can never thank you enough for what you do for us.”
During his own often emotional speech, Teague talked about his upbringing, his family and the people that make up Team Teague and the stable’s success.
“With the work ethic from my parents, the love of horses and the opportunities from great people that came along, I made it here today,” Teague said. “To me, that’s what the Hall of Fame is. It isn’t about me as much as the team and us working together.”
Teague’s training stable is best known for two Horse of the Year Award winners, Rainbow Blue and Wiggle It Jiggleit, as well as the co-fastest horse in history, with a 1:46 mile, pacer Lather Up. Wiggle It Jiggleit and Lather Up were driven by Teague’s son, Montrell.
“Wiggle It Jiggleit was over-the-top fun,” Teague said. “When you can have a horse like that, and have your son to drive, if you can write a story better than that, I’m ready to read the book, and I don’t read books.”
Teague has twice been recognized as Owner of the Year. Other honors include two William R. Haughton Good Guy Awards, in 2004 and 2016, from the U.S. Harness Writers Association. In the latter year, USHWA also presented Team Teague with its highest honor, the Stan Bergstein-Proximity Achievement Award, presented for “outstanding contributions to harness racing.”
“I was lucky enough to have a few people along the way that gave me opportunities and kept telling me that I could do this,” Teague said. “That’s what has gotten me here, with a lot of support from family and friends, and a lot of great owners. Too many good people to name. I can’t thank them enough. Thank you for the opportunity to train horses, to be a partner, to have a little fun along the way. And this has been fun.
“That is my Hall of Fame, the whole team of people, the opportunity that got me here, kept me here. I never thought it would happen to me. Hard work, timing, opportunity; all these horses are a great story from a little guy from a small town that made it up on this stage tonight. It’s about keeping it fun.”
Boring, a member of one of Michigan’s founding families of harness racing, won races in seven different decades, amassing nearly 4,000 victories and $20 million in purses as a driver. He hit the national spotlight with True Duane, a winner of over $360,000 more than 50 years ago.
He also was the handler of Colt Fortysix, winner of the 1984 Little Brown Jug, and another outstanding 3-year-old, Albert Albert.
“All I’ve ever thought about being in the horse business is driving and training horses,” Boring said. “I had a very supportive family. I had good teachers in my father (Leon) and my uncle Harold. I tried to always surround myself with good people and work for good people.
“God gave me the ability to try to keep up and hang in there. I love the horse business more than anything. I always will. I really appreciate being here. It’s a great honor and a great privilege and a lot of wonderful people.”
For the replay of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, click here.