Home of the Louisiana Derby

Bourbon Courage On Cusp of Brave New World

By Graham Ross, Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS(Sunday, April 1, 2012) – What can be made of Bourbon Courage?

In the case of the fast-developing 3-year-old son of Lion Heart owned by Bourbon Lane Stable and Wayne Lynn, the jury is still out, but a spark that has already developed into a warm winter fire at Fair Grounds this season may become a roaring blaze before summer arrives.

It’s far too late for Sunday’s $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby, and unfortunately, this spring’s Kentucky Derby as well, but theGrade III Derby Trail under the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs April 28 looms on the horizon for Bourbon Courage.  If that goal is reached in the manner trainer Kellyn Gorder and his Fair Grounds-based assistant Evan Downing are hoping for, who knows what may lie ahead?  Is the Preakness at Pimlico possible?

“It’s always best to take these things one race at a time,” said Downing late Louisiana Derby week in New Orleans, “but if this horse runs as well in the Derby Trial as we think he could, obviously the Preakness (at Pimlico May 19) would be something to think about.”

Why the late start to Bourbon Courage’s sophomore campaign?

“I had just started working for Kellyn when this horse came down here to Fair Grounds in November,” Downing said.  “Kellyn had just lost two good assistants at Keeneland who had decided to go back to England, but they sent me some notes on this horse that said things like ‘trains forwardly’ and ‘had one nice work up here’, but other than that, I didn’t know too much about him.

“When I started galloping him, I had the sense that something wasn’t quite right with him,” added Downing, who started galloping horses when she was 12 and has been around the sport throughout her adult life while working for her former husband trainer Richie Scherer and later for two-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Steve Asmussen.  “It took us awhile to figure him out, but I think I’ve finally got it that he just didn’t like the Polytrack at Keeneland and it took him a long time to recover from training on it.  It’s like if someone had never been a runner and started running on pavement right off they’d obviously get very sore very quickly and it would take them quite some time to get over that soreness.

“Kellyn is a great guy to work for,” she said of her boss, a devotee of “natural horsemanship” guru Ray Hunt who trained and managed horses like 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, 2010 Belmont Stakes winner and 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Drosselmeyer and 2009 Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed when they were all yearlings at Kentucky’s WinStar Farm.  Gorder also worked for a number of years under Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg.

To date, Bourbon Courage has made two starts, breaking his maiden by 4 1/4-lengths Feb. 3 and then coming back to tally by 6 3/4-lengths March 24.

“I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been working for Kellyn and I’ve got a great deal of respect for him,” Downing added. “I like to work for people who know what it is to sit on a horse and be able to communicate with how the horse is feeling.  I also feel like I’m learning a lot about this horse as we’re moving along with him.

“Kellyn isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to jump up and down when they get excited about a horse, but I love to see that big grin on his face when we talk about this one,” Downing concluded.  “I don’t think any of us are afraid to think about how good this one might become.”