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Bourbon Trail goes through Florida

 Bourbon Lane Stable, the ambitious syndicate managed by bloodstock agents Michael McMahon and Jaimie Hill, is poised to increase its profile dramatically in the coming year. Since 2010, the syndicate has purchased a small group of horses each year–three yearlings and three 2-year-olds — and it is already fielding a contender for the Grade I Donn H. at Gulfstream Park this Sunday in Bourbon Courage (Lion Heart), and a potential Kentucky Derby Contender in the 3-year-old Bourbonize (Tiz Wonderful).

McMahon and Hill are partners in the McMahon and Hill Bloodstock LLC, which has purchased 69 stakes horses, including 21 graded stakes horses. The partners managed a racing stable for many years, though they kept a low profile, partnering occasionally with friends on horses without ever looking to market it commercially.
In 2010, however, the partners decided to grow the stable into what has become Bourbon Lane. Bourbon Courage, who was a bargain $15,000 FTKJUL yearling in 2010, was among the initial group of yearlings the syndicate purchased to launch the stable. “We’ve always been diligent about culling out the horses that aren’t that good, which has kept our partners happy,” McMahon said. “We’ve been able to run in multiple Grade I’s and lots of graded stakes, and with a small stable that’s not easy to do.”

This Sunday’s Donn H. has the potential to be the stable’s biggest victory to date. In preparation for the race, Bourbon Courage worked a bullet Tuesday morning, breezing through four furlongs in :47.55 at Palm Meadows. It was the 5-year-olds third bullet the in a row. “We’re very happy with where Bourbon Courage is right now. We’ve always told [trainer Kellyn Gorder] we didn’t want to get dragged into a race because we made a plan three months ago, but he’s looked great. We’re really looking forward to this Sunday,” McMahon said. Hill added of Tuesday’s work, “He did it all on his own, too. The jockey had no idea he was going as fast as he was. Good horses work fast, so his workouts have been encouraging.”

Bourbon Courage is coming off a third-place finish in the Harlan’s Holiday S. at Gulfstream Park. He has been assigned 115 pounds for the Donn, giving him an eight-pound advantage over favorite Will Take Charge (Unbridled’s Song). Both McMahon and Hill said they believe the conditions in Sunday’s Donn H. will be more favorable to Bourbon Courage’s running style. “We think the longer stretch is really going to help him,” McMahon said. “He closes a ton of ground in the stretch and the Harlan’s Holiday had a short stretch. We feel like the weight and the longer stretch are going to help us.”

While the partners are confident in Bourbon Courage’s chances, they know that with the quality of the field, nothing is guaranteed. “It feels like a mini Breeders’ Cup to me,” McMahon said. “Winning Grade Is is never easy.”

Aside from Bourbon Courage, the stable boasts a promising 3-year-old in Bourbonize, a $40,000 FTKJUL yearling who won his debut at Churchill last November, and annexed a one-mile Oaklawn allowance January 10 in his sophomore debut. “He’s one of those horses where everyone who got on him said he’s got an amazing stride and a great feel to him,” Hill said. “He had some hiccups early but we managed to get through them.” Bourbonize suffered two fractures early in his training, when he and proved to be hard to handle. After he was gelded, however, he began to improve steadily. “It was a big deal to get him where he is now,” Hill said. “But he’s matured mentally and he’s still maturing physically. That’s the kind of horse we like to take into the spring, one who’s going forward and not backwards.”
Bourbonize’s next test will be the GIII Southwest S. at Oaklawn Park on
Feb. 17, where he will compete against two other promising 3-year-olds in GI Hopeful S. winner Strong Mandate (Tiznow) and GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. Winner Tapiture (Tapit). The partners hope that a strong showing there will put Bourbonize in contention for a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

“Like everybody, we have Derby dreams,” Hill said. “The Southwest is going to have a strong field, so we aren’t looking past it; there are no easy graded stakes anywhere. But if he keeps moving forward, we’ll keep moving forward with our Derby fever.”

Both Bourbon Courage and Bourbonize are being conditioned by trainer Kellyn Gorder, who McMahon and Hill credit for much of the stable’s success. “We’ve used a lot of other trainers–some really good trainers–but we’re growing and Kellyn is growing and he is a great fit for us,” McMahon said. “He got both of those horses started from day one, so this wouldn’t happen without him.”

McMahon and Hill are looking to use the Bourbon Lane name to expand their reach beyond racing, as well. On Mar. 1, the partners are releasing a bourbon called Pinhook that will feature horses from Bourbon Lane Stable. Bourbon Courage will be featured on the first batch. “We’re definitely trying to reach a mainstream audience, and the bourbon and Kentucky theme is a no brainer,” McMahon said.
“We’re trying to bring as much attention to racing as possible,” Hill added. “Hopefully in the future as partners, but at least as fans.”

Written by: Michael Illiano

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