EVIDENCE of just how deep former Tamworth man Michael Burke’s roots have penetrated in the city is his Newcastle-based firm Burke & Mead Lawyers sponsorship of tonight’s feature Three Year Old Star Maker Final at the Paceway.
Raising his hand to sponsor the race came pretty easy to Burke, who, as a teenager, loved nothing more than to jump in the gig and tear around the local paceway.
As a Year 12 student at Farrer back in 1996, he grabbed his first career win behind the Alison Newcombe-trained Romador.
“But that was it,” the now 37-year-old joked.
“I got a few placings, but if I’d have been a better driver I would have won more.
“And it was race one at the meeting. The camera jammed so I couldn’t even get it in print.
“Al and Tony (Hallam) really looked after me back then, even though my poor driving might have cost them a couple of wins.”
Twenty years down the track and Burke could be the envy of some of his classmates after going through a decade of university and study to emerge as a successful criminal lawyer, but he didn’t really fit the lawyer persona as a “skinny bloke” back in the 1990s.
“I loved the horses. I really did – so much so that in Year 11, I said to my mate at school Rob Betts (now THRC committeeman) ‘see ya later mate, I’m out of here’.
“So I took a year off school and mucked around doing stablehand, breaking in horses, and generally being around the animals I loved.”
But then he must have seen the light.
“Thanks to a great Farrer principal, Ian Downs, I went back and did my Year 12.
“I really wanted to be an equine vet early in high school, but in Year 12 I had a great legal studies teacher who made me realise that law is where I wanted to be – criminal law. I love it – the harder the case is, the more rewarding it is.”
“I love Tamworth – I have my parents and a lot of mates up there, so I visit as often as I can, be it business or pleasure.
“When Rob (Betts) said that there would be an opportunity to support the club through sponsorship, I jumped at it.
“I love the horses, especially the younger three-year-olds. And it’s good to put something back into a sport that gave me so much pleasure.
“I learned a lot around the track, probably more than I did in the classroom,” he joked.
“I said years ago, in 2014 I would have more to do with the horses. This sponsorship is the start of it.”
So with the knowledge of pacers that Burke has acquired over the years, who is going to win tonight’s feature three-year-old final?
“Dean (driver Dean Chapple) and I go back a long way, and he’s driving El Kay Grand (for Bendemeer trainer Peter Rippon).
“I liked the way she won her heat last week. She didn’t get out until late but really came home. I was impressed.”