HE doesn’t look his age but Michael Burke is well into state pension territory. However, the Loughrea veterinary surgeon and founder of Chanelle Pharma doesn’t know the meaning of ‘retirement’ and is flat out this week on business, at home and abroad.

Surely he has cancelled all appointments next week, I ask, so that he can attend the Galway Races, where he has sponsored the leading trainer award for 37 years, and especially as Michael owns Busselton, who is as low as 10/1 to win the Plate on Wednesday?

“I don’t know if I’ll be there,” he says. “I started going to the races with my parents when I was about eight years of age. And I never missed it up to about six or seven years ago. I’ve just been too busy recently and haven’t been around.”

This is surprising to hear, given his long connection with Ballybrit. Over the years Michael has had numerous winners at Galway in his colours, as well as his fair share of hard luck too. “We had some fantastic days, great memories, and many parties at the Castle,” he says, referring to the 13th century Cloughan Castle in Loughrea which he bought in the 1970s and restored.

And what of Busselton’s chances? Only a five-year-old, the French-bred has already run 16 times for Michael and only been out of the first four once – and that was at Cheltenham. “He’s a lovely animal with a great temperament,” says Michael. “He’s about 7lb short of Grade 1 class but very consistent.

“I bought him myself. I saw him on the television, winning at Auteuil, and I asked Joseph O’Brien to buy him for me. And Joseph has done a fantastic job with him. He’s won on the flat, over hurdles and over fences. Funnily enough, the only day I’ve been there to see him run was at Cheltenham and he finished down the field. Maybe I should stay away next week as well!”

“Definite squeak”

Following a recent flat maiden win at Roscommon, Busselton goes to Galway with “a definite squeak”, Michael admits, but he is not getting carried away. “I never expect anything with racehorses. That’s my philosophy – don’t expect to win.”

As well as sponsoring the leading trainer prize at Galway, Michael is now a valued race sponsor, supporting the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and a good chase at Ascot. Honeysuckle has won the two editions of the Leopardstown race sponsored by Chanelle Pharma, ensuring plenty of media coverage. “It’s been good value for us, Leopardstown look after us very well,” he says.

Michael has owned racehorses since he was a 17-year-old veterinary student and, in addition to Busselton, he has one with Johnny Murtagh and is involved with five in Dubai. They include Summer Is Tomorrow, runner-up in this year’s UAE Derby at Meydan which earned him a place in the Kentucky Derby last May at Churchill Downs.

“That was actually my best racing experience,” Michael says. “We were there for five days and it was the best week of my life. There were almost 150,000 people at the track, an amazing event.”

Summer Is Tomorrow actually finished last of the 20 runners but he played a significant role in the outcome of the race. Michael takes up the story: “Mickael Barzalona rode him out in front and they set the fastest fractions in the 148 years of the race. As a result there was a pace collapse and that allowed Rich Strike to come from the back and win. At 80/1 he was the second biggest priced winner of the Kentucky Derby.”

Michael is hoping Busselton fares a bit better. “We’d like a bit of rain for him but he handles all ground. He has a nice racing weight too. Even if I’m not there I’m sure some of the family will be.”

Michael Burke has got where he is today by working hard and being in the right place at the right time. You’d imagine he is not going to miss the chance of leading in his own winner of the Galway Plate. Keep an eye out for him next week.