Karl Burke has established himself among the training elite in the last few seasons – and there is no sign of him losing his place any time soon.
It is 18 years since Burke and his wife Elaine made the move to North Yorkshire following spells in Newmarket, Wantage, Broadway and Newark.
It may have been a slow-burner initially, but Burke’s training career has engaged overdrive in recent years – sending out 11 Group One winners since the summer of 2015, five of them achieved by the current stable star in the magnificent mare Laurens.
That success has led to significant expansion at Burke’s idyllic stables at Spigot Lodge in Wensleydale, with most of the 128 boxes filled at a yard ideally situated between the famous Low Moor and High Moor gallops near Middleham.
Burke said: “I think we have around 110 horses in at the moment, after sending a few to the sales. I never would have thought we’d have this many horses or wanted this many horses, to be honest.
“I like to be hands-on with the horses and know where they are physically. I’m not a particularly good trainer by telephone or by numbers.
“I like to know the horses really, so I think next year it’s possible we’ll reduce the numbers a little bit – just to make it more enjoyable.”
Burke was speaking at a press morning to promote the Go Racing in Yorkshire Summer Festival, which boasts 10 meetings across nine days at eight racecourses in the county between Saturday July 20 and Sunday July 28.
A whistle-stop tour of the yard tells you Burke is very much in the big time these days, with many of the stable doors adorned by the familiar colours of powerhouse owners like Cheveley Park Stud and Phoenix Thoroughbreds, to name just two.
“When you start off training, it’s where you want to be,” he added.
“Sometimes when you get there you don’t enjoy it as much as you should do, because you’re just chasing your tail, but hopefully we can keep all those people happy and keep training nice horses for them.
“They’re all good people to train for, who understand the game and understand horses.
“A lot of the Cheveley Park horses are home-breds, and Phoenix have their own team of buyers. We just try and do our own thing and look for value – and we keep a share in a lot of horses as well – which has worked really well for us, (and) allowed us to reinvest in the facilities here.
“Hopefully we can keep doing that. But at the same time, if you add up all the percentages, we probably own 30 horses – which is way too many really.
“I want to halve that for next year.”
Having spent around two years training in Newmarket before switching north, Burke is well placed to assess the merits of two of the country’s biggest centres.
He said: “It’s completely different from Newmarket, as you can imagine, but I don’t think I’d want to train anywhere else now. The quality of life here is good, and the facilities in Middleham are excellent.
“There’s a lot of horses trained in Middleham and a lot of winners trained in Middleham. I haven’t done the figures, but I wouldn’t mind having a bet that percentage-wise it’s the best of any of the training centres.
“There are very few negatives to being in Yorkshire.”
While Laurens is very much the apple of her trainer’s eye, she is supported by a whole host of exciting stable companions – with Burke appearing particularly strong in the juvenile division.
Dubai Station is set for a trip to France for the Group Three Prix de Cabourg after finishing third in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot, while Rayong could also head across the Channel for the Prix Robert Papin.
The Super Sprint at Newbury and the Princess Margaret at Ascot are among the options under consideration for recent Nottingham scorer Never In Paris, with the Super Sprint and the Lowther Stakes at York potential targets for Beverley victor Living In The Past.
Of the unraced juveniles in his care, Burke gave special mention to Cheveley Park’s Finery and the Phoenix-owned pair of Seize The Time and Do You Love Me.
Of Finery, Burke said: “She’s probably one of if not our best two-year-old filly, I think.
“She hasn’t run yet, but I’m thinking of starting her off in the fillies’ maiden at Doncaster that Laurens won. We hold her in high regard – and she’s a lovely, natural galloping filly, certainly one I hope you’ll be hearing a lot more of later in the season.”
Among the three-year-old brigade, the two that stand out are True Mason and the seriously exciting Vitralite.
True Mason has come close in Group-race company on a few occasions, while Vitralite has looked a colt of immense potential in winning each of his two starts to date at Haydock.
Burke said: “True Mason was third in the Prix Robert Papin and the Prix Morny last year. He’s a high-class horse, and I still think there’s a Group race in him, but he has got an entry in the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood – so we’ll see what the ground does there.
“He’s had a little rest and a wind op. He’s a good horse.
“Vitralite is looking a very nice horse. He’s won his two races at Haydock very comfortably, and the form has worked out great. He’s got an opening mark after two runs of 94, so the handicapper thinks a bit of him.
“I’ve got a three-year-old handicap at the Ebor meeting at York as a possibility for him, but he’s got to have one more run to qualify for that. I’d say he’s a Group horse in the making.”