Longtime harness racing industry participant and Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famer Robert ‘Bob’ Burgess, Q.C. of Rockwood, Ont. passed away on Saturday, April 3 at the age of 85.
Bob was born in Peterborough, Ont. When he was in Grade 11, he moved with his family to Quebec City where he and his brother, Dick, developed a passion for harness racing and betting on Standardbreds. Bob graduated from McGill University and then from Osgoode Hall Law School. Bob and Dick were practicing law in downtown Toronto, and frequented Greenwood Raceway. They eventually claimed pacer Danny Duke for $3,125 in the late 1960s, the start of decades of horse ownership that continued to this day.
Eventually, Bob, Dick and their father, Bert, under the Tri-Burgess Stable bought a broodmare and became breeders. Bob then established Haw Lea Stud Farms with Glenn Anderson, bringing trotting stallion High Level to Ontario as one of the first trotting stallions of note to stand in the province during the 1970s. That farm paved the way for what would be Cantario Farms, founded by Burgess with legal partner John MacDonald in the mid-1970s. Cantario became one of the leading breeders of Standardbred horses in Canada during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Bob Burgess receives his Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame ring from Jamie Martin
A lawyer specializing first in the corporate world in Toronto before shifting in equine law when he moved to Campbellville, Bob believed his biggest contribution was incorporating and acting as counsel for the Ontario Standardbred Improvement Association (now known as the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association) that resulted in the formation of the much-heralded Ontario Sires Stakes program. “For the better part of his adult life my father has lived and breathed racing,” said his son Blair. “From just attending the races as a small-time gambler and racing fan to stepping up and claiming his first horse, he never would have imagined a person such as he, with no farm or horse background, would make harness racing his life work.”
Burgess’ most notable achievement as a breeder was syndicating Balanced Image, introducing the great trotting sire to Canada. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, Balanced Image produced more winners than any trotter in history, including two Hambletonian winners. His progeny earned more than $110 million.
Robert has co-owned many champions over the years trained by his son, Blair, for the family. The first major star was Amity Chef, the pacer of the year in 1986. The next year, Frugal Gourmet won the $1 million Meadowlands Pace. A year after that, Road Machine won the Metro Pace.
2003 Hambletonian winner Amigo Hall
Real Desire, a winner of $3.3 million won Horse of the Year honours in 2002 and was inducted into the Hall in 2008. In 2003, the family scored its first Hambletonian triumph when Amigo Hall was victorious. Three years later, Armbro Deuce won the Confederation Cup and Glidemaster delivered the Hambletonian, trotting Triple Crown and U.S. horse of the year award.
In 2007, Tell All won the family its first North America Cup and Little Brown Jug. Tell All shared Canada’s horse of the year award that year with two-year-old Somebeachsomewhere.
In 2010, Robert picked up another O’Brien Award with his homebred two-year-old, Blue Porsche who won as Canada’s top two-year-old trotting colt. Blue Porsche, the winner of the Valley Victory at Woodbine Racetrack in 2010 and Goodtimes Stakes at Mohawk in 2011, is a son of Glidemaster.
Heather Burgess, Pam Burgess, Robert Burgess receive the O’Brien trophy for Blue Porsche from SC’s Darryl Kaplan.
Bob also was involved early in TheStable.ca and one of his homebreds, Lawmaker, was one of the fractional ownership group’s early successes, starting in the Hambletonian.
Aside from his success with racing and breeding stock, Burgess held leadership positions in several industry associations over the years. He is past vice-president of the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society (the predecessor to Standardbred Canada) and was a longtime director of the Board for the Ontario Jockey Club and Woodbine Entertainment Group.
Upon his induction into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, he deferred credit to his success to those around him, speaking proudly of his son who trains the horses and his late wife who handled much of the business end of the game for the family. “I actually think Blair and Vera did more than I did. They’re not in the Hall of Fame. She never will be, but Blair will be.” Robert’s words came to fruition when Blair joined the Hall in 2017.
A tireless advocate for the Standardbred industry, Bob’s legal work later in life focused on representing horsepeople. He was also a key participant in the breeders’ lawsuit against the Province of Ontario, providing information and testifying on the industry’s behalf.
Bob is survived by his dedicated and caring wife Heather and her family, and his five children from his first wife, the late Vera: Blair (Karin), Timothy (Lan), Pamela (Michael), Stephanie (Stephen) and Katherine (Christopher). Bob is also survived by his 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Bob also leaves his brother Richard (Odette), sister-in-law Vera (Carl, deceased), while predeceased by sister-in-law Eva (George, deceased).
A small private family service will be held. Donations can be made in Bob’s name to the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society.
Please join Standardbred Canada in offering condolences to the family and friends of Robert Burgess.
(with files from the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame)