(Elliot Burch and Sword Dancer on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1960)
J. Elliot Burch, a Hall of Fame trainer who won the Belmont Stakes three times and joined his father and grandfather in the Hall of Fame, died Sunday of complications from pneumonia in Newport Hospital in Rhode Island. He was 86.
Born in 1924, John Elliot Burch was the grandson of William Burch and the son of Preston Burch, both of whom also were elected to the Hall of Fame as trainers. Elliot Burch attended Yale University and worked for Daily Racing Form before going to work for his father in 1955, eventually taking over the powerhouse stable. During his three decades in racing, Burch worked for some of the most influential owners in American racing, including Brookmeade Stable, Rokeby Stable, and Whitney Stable.
Among the champions trained by Burch were Sword Dancer, Bowl of Flowers, Fort Marcy, Arts and Letters, Run the Gantlet, and Key to the Mint. His Belmont winners were Sword Dancer (1959), Quadrangle (1964), and Arts and Letters (1969).
Burch won virtually every major race on his home circuit of New York, some on multiple occasions, as well as other big events such as the Washington D.C. International, the United Nations, the San Juan Capistrano, the Spinster, and the Blue Grass Stakes. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1980 and retired in 1985.
“Elliot Burch was inducted into the Hall of Fame the same year that I became a racing fan,” said Charles Hayward, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association. “I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Burch as I was friends with all of his children. We all know that he was a brilliant trainer and a great horseman. He was also a devoted father who cared deeply for his family. He was an avid reader and I enjoyed hearing him speak about his favorite books. Elliot Burch will be missed and we should all thank him for the many contributions that he made to Thoroughbred racing.”
Burch served in the Army Signal Corps in World War II. He had been living in Rhode Island since his retirement. He was preceded in death by his wife, Phyllis, and his son, William. He is survived by three grown children and four grandchildren.
Burch is the second trainer who was employed by the late Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stable to die recently. Fellow Hall of Famer Mack Miller, who won the Kentucky Derby for Rokeby with Sea Hero in 1993, died in December at age 89.
Visitation is scheduled for Thursday from 5-7 p.m. Eastern at the O’Neill-Hayes funeral home in Newport. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at United Congregational Church in Middletown, R.I. Donations can be made to Newport Hospital or the National Museum of Racing.
Here are some links about Burch: