Harness racing runs in the family for SIU grad student

By Tony McDaniel

The Du Quoin State Fair was the final chance of the summer for an SIU grad student to pick up a harness racing win; he and his horse made the most of that opportunity.

Eric Collier’s Aug. 22 win in the County Fair Championship for three-year-old trotting fillies at the Du Quoin State Fair was the latest triumph for a family with a rich harness racing tradition.

The 29-year-old from Fairfield and his horse, Bessiebearcat, took first place in Du Quoin after qualifying on the county fair circuit over the summer. Made a slight favorite by the betting public, the Standardbred filly finished the one-mile harness race in 2 minutes, 1.1 seconds.

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“It was a very competitive race,” race announcer Kurt Becker said. “Looking at the race on paper, it looked to be a toss-up.”

Collier said Bessiebearcat earned him $4,000 with the win.

Du Quoin Track announcer Ed Teefey said harness racing differs from thoroughbred racing. In harness racing the horses are only allowed to trot, instead of racing at a full gallop. Also, drivers ride in carts pulled behind the horse rather than on saddles.

Collier said the name Bessiebearcat came from Collier’s great-aunt Bessie Burkett, who called herself “Bessie the Bear Cat” because of her fiery personality. Collier said although Bessie the horse generally has a laid-back personality, she shares some similar traits with Burkett.

“It seemed like after we won the other night she was wanting to kick around on the walls and stuff,” he said. “So I guess you could say she does have that little fiery streak to her.”

The family influence does not stop there for Collier. He said he has been involved with harness racing for nearly his whole life. His parents met while harness racing in the early ‘80s, and his grandfather, Delbert Burkett, is a member of the Illinois Harness

Horsemen’s Association Hall of Fame.

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Being run over and kicked in the head on separate occasions when he was three did not deter Collier from pursuing a lifetime of harness racing.

“It happens,” he said. “And you still enjoy the horses.”

Collier races with Bessiebearcat throughout the summer, but when school is in session, she stays at his grandfather’s farm in Ellery. With the exception of the occasional weekend when he goes home to train with his horses, Collier said he stays focused completely on school during the semester.

Collier said he gave Burkett half ownership in Bessiebearcat because he knew he would not be able to take care of her while school was in session but wanted to keep her with family. He also said having half ownership gave his grandfather a vested interest in Bessiebearcat’s performance.

Collier said his grandfather owns about 80 acres, including his own harness racing track, where he trains his own horses along with Bessiebearcat.

Collier said since he was raised in a harness racing family, he would like to carry on the tradition with his future children.

“I think it’s a good way to teach people a good work ethic because it’s not an easy

business to be involved in,” he said.

Thomas can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @tdonleyde

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