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Lynwood Graduate Bourbonic won the Wood Memorial (G2) and is now slated to start in the Kentucky Derby.

Reprinted from KentuckyDerby.com

In both name and background, Bourbonic represents Kentucky icons long intertwined with the Run for the Roses. A homebred for legendary Calumet Farm – the top owner/breeder in Kentucky Derby (G1) history – Bourbonic is a natural hunch play for fans imbibing mint juleps crafted from the state’s signature spirit.

Calumet bred and campaigned a record eight Kentucky Derby winners during its midcentury heyday, most famously Triple Crown champions Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948). The farm’s fortunes waned in later years, but Calumet was back in the classic spotlight when homebred Alydar battled Affirmed through an epic Triple Crown in 1978.

Alydar later gave Calumet a ninth Derby victory, as a breeder, by siring Strike the Gold (1991) amid the farm’s most troubled phase. Sold as a youngster, Strike the Gold raced for Joseph M. Cornacchia, B. Giles Brophy, and William J. Condren.

Calumet has experienced a remarkable revival in the last decade, thanks to its new impresario, billionaire conservationist Brad Kelley. It was more than just a symbolic turning point when Calumet-owned Oxbow captured the 2013 Preakness (G1). (Oxbow is now the sire of Derby contender Hot Rod Charlie.) The farm has ranked as North America’s leading breeder by money won in both 2019 and 2020, and Bourbonic is helping to put Calumet in pole position so far this year as well.

Bourbonic joined the Calumet fold in utero. His dam, the Afleet Alex mare Dancing Afleet, was a $170,000 purchase when in foal to Bernardini at the 2017 Keeneland November Sale.

Dancing Afleet won half of her six starts, most notably the 2013 Delaware Oaks (G2), and had produced two foals at the time of her sale. The second would turn out to be graded stakes performer Avant Garde, who’s placed in the Feb. 27 Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) and the March 27 Godolphin Mile (G2) on Dubai World Cup night.

Her Bernardini colt arrived on April 7, 2018. A dark bay like his sire, Bourbonic blended in with the batch of foals on the farm.

Calumet’s general manager, Eddie Kane, just recalled him as a “trouble-free foal.” But he made more of an impression with time, as he “grew up to be a very nice yearling colt” at the farm’s Mint Lane division.

Bourbonic was sent to the Recio family’s Lynwood Stable near Ocala, Florida, for his early education. Past Lynwood graduates include champions Songbird and Honor Code, as well as Battle of Midway, the third-placer in the 2017 Kentucky Derby who went on to beat elders in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), and Omaha Beach, the 2019 Derby favorite before scratching.

While not a flashy pupil, Bourbonic had the physique and manner of a colt who might come into his own with maturity – and distance.

“He was a big, very good-looking colt from day one,” Gene Recio observed. “Trained perfect and was an easy keeper, didn’t get in trouble, no special instructions or issues with him.

“When we started breezing, I could tell he wasn’t quick, but he had a good way of getting over the track and handled everything easy. I could tell he wasn’t the Saratoga 5 1/2-furlong type, but we were hopeful as he grew up and the races got longer, he could separate himself.”

That’s eventually what happened, in a fitting trajectory for a horse whose very name involves enhancement through aging.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Bourbonic ran up to his longshot status in his first two starts as a juvenile. The 20-1 shot was never involved in his seven-furlong debut at Belmont Park, the same key maiden where Caddo River and Greatest Honour were second and third, respectively. Bourbonic stretched out and tried turf next time at Aqueduct, but trailed at odds of 40-1.

Back on the Aqueduct dirt, Bourbonic took a class drop into $50,000 maiden claiming company, added blinkers, and gained a confidence-building win in a romp. Connections wouldn’t risk losing him again. Pletcher kept him versus lesser foes in a starter/optional claimer over the same mile trip, and Bourbonic got up by a neck to make it two straight. The Triple Crown nominee then ventured into a better grade of allowance/optional claimer at Parx, closing from last to finish a non-threatening second to Market Maven.

Even by the most optimistic assessment, though, Bourbonic had his work cut out for him when making his stakes debut in the April 3 Wood Memorial (G2). His Parx conqueror, Market Maven, was himself a 70-1 shot in the Wood, and Bourbonic was the highest price of all at 72-1.

Kelley was willing to give Bourbonic a chance to prove himself. The colt responded by delivering the race of his life – indeed, furnishing the biggest win payout ($146.50 for a $2 ticket) in 96 runnings of the Wood. Launching a sustained rally from last, he denied fellow Pletcher trainee Dynamic One by a head on the wire.

Recio, delighted with the progress of his former student, appreciates the historical dimension of Calumet at the Derby.

“Calumet and farm manager Eddie Kane are a pleasure to train for, and don’t push any horse unless they take us there,” Recio said. “I’m very happy to break a horse that may run in the Kentucky Derby for Calumet Farm.”

You might say that Bourbonic has a long finish, one that could help him to exceed expectations over 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.