Hammer's Dance Floor is hopping Rap star and family spice up racing scene

March 14, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- Rap star Hammer starts a global tour April 1.

But he'll hire a private plane to fly him to the Triple Crown races.

A friend spotted a huge picture frame hat, complete with silk roses, in the Saks store in Carmel, Calif., and bought it for Hammer's sister Nesha to wear to the Kentucky Derby.

The Burrell family -- the father and two brothers of the rapper -- are making some big plans for their Oaktown Stable in the upcoming Triple Crown.

But they know it could hinge on how well Dance Floor, their 3-year-old colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas, performs today in the Florida Derby.

A year ago, the Burrells were a curiosity in the racing establishment. Hammer added flash to the sport's sometimes staid image. Some examples:

* Hammer took off his shirt at Belmont Park.

* Hammer made a $150,000 side bet on a race with corporate raider Carl Icahn.

* Hammer wanted to make a video with his championship-caliber filly, Lite Light.

Hammer and his family were the newcomers with big bucks, sinking money into thoroughbreds when old-timers like Calumet Farm were going bankrupt.

"We were kind of wild and excited then," said Chris Burrell, one of Hammer's older brothers who is president of Oaktown Stable.

"We're wiser now, and we're doing things a little differently. We're not making big bets. We don't want to drive down the odds on a horse from 2-1 to 3-5 so the public doesn't get a fair return on their money. We're in this game for the long haul, and we're making plans to be around for quite awhile."

Although the Burrells might be perceived as being new to racing, "we were horse players a heck of a long time before Hammer became a rap singer," said Louis Burrell Jr., 32, president of Bust It Productions, Hammer's recording company and an owner in the racing stable.

"When we were little, our dad took us to the fairs in California. We could either go on the rides or go to the races with him. We never went on the rides."

Hammer was not in Miami for the pre-race festivities. He was taking the late flight from Los Angeles to Miami last night.

But his advance team arrived earlier in the week. The Burrells live in the Oakland area. Their father, Lewis Burrell Sr., stays busy as the casino manager of the Oaks Card Club, where he's worked for 20 years. He leaves most of the racing decisions up to Chris, 31, and Louis, "although we all work together as a team," Louis said.

Chris Burrell was first on the Florida Derby scene, accompanied by two bloodstock advisers, Michel Everett and Catherine Nikkel. The two women, who operate an international bloodstock agency, got to know the Burrells last year when they found them Lite Light.

"The boys absolutely worship their father," Nikkel said. "Hammer is the star, the youngest of four boys. The eldest, Kenneth, is involved in the production company, but not in racing. When Hammer is around the others, he's just one of the family. I think after the stress of show business, he looks at racing as relaxing and a release."

The Burrell family is also represented at the race by a public relations agency, Benoit-Burr & Associates Inc. from Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Rayetta Burr arrived a couple of days before the race and handed out a seven-page press release detailing the Burrells' involvement in racing.

"You never know when Hammer is going to come to the races," Burr said. "He's so busy. He was supposed to be shooting a video today, but he made adjustments so he could get here. Sometimes I think he just can't stand not being at a race like this, so he hops on a plane and comes."

Chris Burrell said the family hired the agency "because the people in racing didn't know anything about the Burrells. We are busy with a lot of other things and they help us coordinate our time, where and when we are supposed to be someplace."

Although Hammer exhibits boundless energy in his newest video, Too Legit To Quit, Nikkel said he is not wild or irreverent.

"Quite the opposite," she said. "He is a born-again Christian. He has one religious song in each of his videos and when he's at the races, he makes sure that every kid that wants an autograph gets one. He lives his whole life so that there will be a future for children."

Nikkel added that the Burrells like all aspects of racing. "They look at horses as athletes. They like the gambling. They are getting involved in breeding," she said. "And they love being winners."

Mark Hennig, Lukas' assistant who is training Dance Floor at Gulfstream, said training for Hammer is unique. "It's like training a horse for someone like Cher," he said. "Who else is so well known, that they're identifiable by only one name?"

Hennig also added that the Burrells' notoriety takes some of the pressure off of him and Dance Floor. "Today, most of the attention is going to be on Hammer, and not the horse," he said.

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