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Karl Burke Stable Tour: Top trainer discusses recovery from cancer and his bolstered 2024 squad

After overcoming a ban and more recently bowel cancer, Karl Burke's stable is now the best it has ever been; fresh from earning almost £4m prize money last season, the Middleham team return for 2024 looking to go even better.

Karl Burke is gearing up for a big season
Image: Karl Burke is gearing up for a big season

After over a century of winners last season, Karl Burke's training career continues to hit new heights. This term, he returns with a stellar stable which could land him the Champion Trainer's title.

The Spigot Lodge head honcho's ability to attract some of the wealthiest owners in the world - notably the likes of Sheikh Mohammed Obaid and Sheikh Juma - is a testament to his capabilities as one of the leading Flat trainers in Britain.

Burke recently had a much tougher obstacle to overcome, however, as he was treated for bowel cancer in summer 2023.

He recalled: "The chemo session wasn't nice. I had the operation in July last year and was recovering from that - and I had to have the chemo to make sure nothing had spread, but the chemo was the worst."

Throughout a difficult period, the 60-year-old found great solace in being able to direct stable operations from a distance, rather than being left to his own devices.

"I was still doing what I could in the office, but physically I couldn't be out with the horses as much as I wanted to be. It took my mind off it. I was probably in a hell of a better position that someone living in a high rise flat with nothing to do and nothing to think about.

Burke is no stranger to adversity, having been warned off for a year by the BHA after handing information to banned gambler Miles Rodgers in 2009.

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Reflecting on that time, Burke said: "I probably would have walked away when I picked up the year ban, but the girls [daughters Lucy and Kelly] didn't want to at that stage. We went from having 50 or 60 horses to 15 or 20, and we battled away. It probably affected them more than me to be honest."

"What doesn't kill you make you stronger is the saying, and I think that's right. I made mistakes and learnt from them."

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He added: "I love creating things. I like being able to see what we need to train the horses to get better results. We've done nearly as much as we can with Spigot Lodge. Ten years ago you would see a bit of the yard and think I can put such and such there, which gives you a goal to work to.

"I never thought we'd get to the numbers we have now, and never really wanted to get this big - you've created your own monster to a degree - but it's of our making so we have to deal with it."

The yard now hosts 139 stables, many of which are filled with prospects holding exciting chances over the coming months.

"You try not to get too ahead of yourself and too excited, a lot of things can go wrong in a horse's life - that tempers things. I could get giddy but there's an awful lot of work to do.

"It can be frustrating, exhilarating, exciting, nerve racking - you go through a range of emotions. Through the year you go through all of them, the key is keeping it as level as you can."

Burke boasts a career littered with achievements, most notably the Prix De Diane at Chantilly with Laurens and saddling first Yorkshire trained Dante winner in over 70 years - Libertarian in 2013.

Karl Burke after Betfred Dante Stakes victory at York Races in 2013
Image: Karl Burke after Betfred Dante Stakes victory at York Races in 2013

More recently, Fallen Angel landed the Group One Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh last term, whilst Poptronic clinched the Fillies & Mares Stakes on Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot.

Caviar Heights and Cuban Tiger are just two of the three-year-olds being prepared at Burke's Middleham base, alongside more experienced favourites Marshman, Liberty Lane and Flight Plan.

Burke said: "To have an English Classic winner would be fantastic, that has to be the main aim of any trainer I'd have thought. Last year we had nearly £4m in prize money and 126 winners across Europe, so that was fantastic.

"I'd love to have a winner on the international scene in the Middle East again, and it would be fantastic to have a Breeders Cup winner - but it goes without saying they're hard to get and you need a lot of hard work along the way."

Watch all three parts of 'Karl Burke - Northern Powerhouse' on the At The Races YouTube channel

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