Lexington, KY --- Horseman George Berkner, 74, perhaps best known for campaigning BG's Bunny but more recently training 2010 New Jersey Classic winner BG's Folly and Feeling You, and co-owning Rockeyed Optimist, died July 28, 2016. Mr. Berkner had battled cancer for more than a year.
BG's Bunny won an elimination for the 1977 Meadowlands Pace, setting a 1:54 world record by a whopping five lengths. Unfortunately, the euphoria from the big win didn't last long as BG's Bunny shattered a sesamoid in five places in the race and never made another start.
Born in New York City, in Manhattan's Washington Heights district, Mr. Berkner's father was a tool and die maker who liked to make a trip to the track. When young George took a summer job as a waiter at Kuschner Country Club in Monticello, he was conveniently close to Monticello Raceway.
Mr. Berkner got his first job working with horses in the Anthony Abbatiello Stable. He stayed there until he was drafted for service during the Vietnam war.
"I was in the Army for about seven months stationed in Hawaii and waiting for the next plane to Asia when I was discharged because of family hardship," Mr. Berkner told Harold Howe in a 2010 interview published in The Harness Edge. "My father was gone by then and I was the only male in the family, it was my mother and I. So I came home and went straight back to Monticello Raceway to get a job."
Mr. Berkner's next employers were Maurice Pusey, who had worked as an assistant for Clint Hodgins, and Sam Caton.
Not long afterward Mr. Berkner moved to California to train there for three years. When he moved back to the East Coast, he again settled at Monticello.
While at Monticello Mr. Berkner met Bob Greenberg, who owned a bus line which specialized in transporting handicapped children in New York City.
"He was brand new to the game and Monticello was a happening place back then," said Mr. Berkner of meeting Greenberg.
At the 1975 Old Glory Yearling Sale, Mr. Berkner bought a colt named Cooring for $15,000 that had a bog spavin. Taking the initials from their first names, the colt was renamed BG's Bunny, with "Bunny" a reference to a bunny Greenberg kept on the mirror of his car.
In later years Mr. Berkner developed 1989 Little Brown Jug winner Goalie Jeff. When the colt was in training Mr. Berkner was still trying to take it easy after suffering a heart attack in the previous year, so he began to work with young trainer Mark Loewe. Goalie Jeff was sold to a group formed by Tom Artandi and went on to win the Jug.
Mr. Berkner trained horses for the late Alan Kirschenbaum, his close friend from the days when Kirschenbaum worked for him. Among Kirschenbaum's horses were the money-making overachiever Little Steven and Feeling You, who finished second in the Tarport Hap and Lynch Memorial.
Mr. Berkner is survived by his wife, Ginny; daughter, Mara Shad Berkner; and a grandson.
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