11. juli 2012
The amazing driving career of Leo Burns continued on Monday night (July 9) at the Wayne County Fair in Fairfield, Illinois.
At the age of 97 years young, Burns piloted the eight-year-old trotting mare Winsome Wyoming to a 2:07.1 victory in a Free For All Trot. Burns also owns and trains the daughter of Wilson Wyoming-Drama Queen.
Winsome Wyoming drew the rail and went wire-to-wire through fractions of :32.1, 1:02.4, 1:34.4 and 2:07.1. The duo opened up a 3-3/4 length lead at the top of the lane and then hung on for a two length triumph over Bonfire Red.
The victory allowed Burns to break his own record as the oldest driver to ever win a race.
Leo Burns, 97
People close to Leo Burns says that driving and training his one horse, the 8-year-old mare Winsome Wyoming, has given him a purpose and helped fill a void left by the death of his wife in 2003 .
“Leo’s the type who has to be doing something,” said his longtime friend Leroy Moore, a 76-year-old part-time harness trainer. “If it wasn’t this, he’d be tinkering around with something else. This is what has kept him going.”
Burns and his wife, Marjorie, worked together, traveling the Illinois fair track circuit for decades, scratching out a living with their small stable of standardbreds. But when his wife fell ill in the late 1990s, Burns stopped competing and devoted most of his time to caring for her. After she died, Burns was left with the possibility of being a lonely widower. He might have been old at the time, but he did not feel that way. He did not want to give up on whatever years he had left.
“My wife was sick for quite a while,” he said. “I just took care of her. After she died, I needed something to do. That’s why I got horses.”
Six years after he left the track and having turned 89, Burns returned, driving a horse for Moore in a $1,000 race at the fair in Albion, Ill. But it took Winsome Wyoming to get him back to the winner’s circle and invigorate his career and his life. He found the trotter at a yearling sale in 2005 and paid $2,600 for her. Burns said Winsome Wyoming was a mean horse that was tough to deal with when he got her, but she had enough talent to compete at the Illinois fairs, where the purses are usually no more than a few thousand dollars. “That’s my horse, and I know her,” Burns said. “I’ve had her since she was a year old. We just get along good together. She’s a good horse.”
Burns lives in Albion (population 1,933) in the southeast corner of the Illinois. His mare has the winter off before gearing up for the fair racing season, which starts in early June and ends in early September. There are a few things Burns struggles with because of his age, like taking the equipment off Winsome Wyoming after she is done racing, so Moore accompanies him to the various race meets across the state. Once there, Burns is tough to beat.
“He’s aggressive in his races,” said John Cisna, the executive director of the Illinois Standardbred Owners and Breeders Association. “He won’t sit back and just let the other boys win. He can hold his own, and the other drivers don’t give him any slack. They know he’s a competitor.”
Burns says his timing and reflexes are not nearly what they used to be, but he says he has not heard any drivers express concerns about his safety or theirs.
“I have no problem driving against him,” said 23-year-old Jared Finn, who defeated Burns and Winsome Wyoming on Aug. 4, 2010 at the Effingham fair. “He’s safe, and he’s a great guy.”
“Here’s a man who is 97 years old, and he goes out every day and trains the mare and takes care of her,” Cisna said. “That’s the greatest medicine he could ever have.”
Leo Burns, 91