02/11/2015 2:54PM

Bourbon Courage begins 2015 with focus on one-turn races

Tom Keyser
Bourbon Courage will start on Monday in the $250,000 General George Handicap at Laurel Park.

Bourbon Courage reinvented himself during a three-race campaign last fall, winning his first race in two years and, somewhat surprisingly, making the case that he is better around one turn than two.

On the Presidents Day card Monday at Laurel Park, a freshened Bourbon Courage will begin his 6-year-old season in the $250,000 General George Handicap.

“If he runs well at Laurel, we’ll go to the Carter with him,” said trainer Kellyn Gorder.

The Grade 1 Carter Handicap will be run at Aqueduct on April 4. Like the General George, it is seven furlongs.

Bourbon Courage has always had a lot of class, but prior to last fall, he hadn’t won since the 2012 Super Derby.

“When we stretched him out at 3, he had success at two turns,” Gorder said. “He was second in West Virginia, won the Super Derby, was second in the Indiana Derby, third in the Clark, second in the Donn. Just a lot of near misses. We were having a hard time getting him to win.”

The pattern continued last spring, and following a sixth-place finish in the Pimlico Special, Gorder gave him a breather. When he brought him back to the races in the fall at Keeneland, it was in a 6 1/2-furlong optional-claiming race.

Sent off at even-money, Bourbon Courage dueled on the lead before pulling away to an impressive score.

From there, it was off to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. After breaking from post 14, Bourbon Courage dropped back to 13th. He came extremely wide into the stretch and finished fastest of all to be fourth, beaten two lengths. He galloped out in front of the field.

“He ran super,” said Gorder, 47. “He was flying at the finish.”

Bourbon Courage’s final race of the season came in the Cigar Mile Handicap. Unfortunately for him, the Aqueduct track was exceptionally speed-biased, compromising the performances of many horses on the card. Private Zone went wire to wire to win by five lengths. Bourbon Courage rallied to be third, beaten a neck for second.

“We were up against it that day,” Gorder said.

Following the Cigar, Bourbon Courage was given a 30-day break at Adena Springs. He was then sent to Gorder at Tampa Bay Downs, where he has worked five times. He departed Tampa by van for Laurel on Tuesday.

A $15,000 yearling purchase by the Bourbon Lane Stable public partnership that is managed by McMahon & Hill Bloodstock, Bourbon Courage has earned more than $1.1 million. And with his enthusiasm renewed, he could be sitting on a big season.

Zee Bros to ship in Friday

The Grade 3 General George will be drawn Friday. The favorites figure to be Salutos Amigos, a winner of four of his last five for David Jacobson, De Francis Dash winner Zee Bros, and Bourbon Courage.

Others expected include Outside Nashville, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer; West Hills Giant; Misconnect; Praetereo; Javerre; Calamondin; and the sharp locals Smash and Grab and Cutty Shark.

D. Wayne Lukas plans to ship Zee Bros from his Oaklawn Park base on Friday and has Jose Ortiz, who was aboard for the De Francis, lined up to ride.

Zee Bros worked a best-of-74 bullet five furlongs at Oaklawn last Saturday. Of the favorites, Zee Bros possesses the best early speed and is the only one to have a race over the track.

“I think he’s going to represent us very, very well,” Lukas said by phone Wednesday.

Zee Bros has raced once since his Nov. 15 De Francis victory, finishing third in the 1 1/16-mile Fifth Season Stakes at Oaklawn.

“I wanted to give him the opportunity to go two turns to see if that would be an option for us down the line, and we really had nothing to lose,” Lukas said. “We’ve had this race in mind for him for a long while.”