Bourke barn rolling with ‘Stones’

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David Bourke makes it pretty clear about his position as a trainer of racehorses. “This is more or less a hobby,” he said. “It’s not something I pay my mortgage with.” Of course, if 2016 continues the way it started, he might have to give up his job as a blacksmith.

Bourke is 2-for-2 as a trainer this year, and heads to Monmouth Park Friday with Curve Of Stones in a $35,000 handicap hurdle. The third race of eight on the day starts at 1:43 p.m. and lured a field of 10 including stakes winners Sacred Soul, African Oil and Andi’amu. Curve Of Stone is responsible for both wins (and starts) on Bourke’s ledger this year and could vault to the top of the novice division with another win about a year after joining Bourke’s small stable.

The son of Arch was doing OK as a flat horse. He won twice for Jonathan Sheppard and Lake Lonely Racing in 2014 before being claimed by Jamie Ness for $30,000 in April last year. Ness and Midwest Thoroughbreds won two at Pimlico last May, then lost Curve Of Stones (to trainer Marcus Vitali) for $20,000 at Monmouth Park last June. Based in Orange, Va., Bourke was scouting for prospects and this one kept popping up on his watch list while others dropped off.

“I had some customers in Virginia looking at horses but it seemed like every horse I looked at, I couldn’t buy,” he said. “None of them would vet. I must have gone to 10 racetracks and with looking at all the horses I looked at last year – at Parx, Penn National, Monmouth, Maryland – his form was good. Whether he ran on the dirt or the turf he seemed to have consistent form.”

In his first start for Vitali, at Monmouth last July 4, Curve Of Stones won and went home with Bourke after a $20,000 claim on behalf of owners Sarah and Pat Shepherd. The plunge looked like anything but a bargain early on as Curve Of Stones lost five in a row – one for a $15,000 tag – to end the year.

“I just couldn’t get him to come back to the form when Mr. Sheppard or Jamie Ness or Marcus Vitali had him,” said Bourke. “I don’t know why. We had some issues with his feet and stuff. He had some abscesses that kept popping. He’s got pony feet for the size of his body. I got upset with him and put him in a $15,000 claimer (at Laurel Park in November). Luckily nobody claimed him.”

Curve Of Stones went foxhunting over the fall and winter, learned to jump, gallop and relax – and began a transformation. Bourke ran the 5-year-old at a point-to-point in April, then won what is traditionally a competitive maiden hurdle at the Virginia Gold Cup May 7. Curve Of Stones and apprentice Barry John Foley won by a neck in a field of 10. Two weeks later, they stepped up to allowance company and won again – beating seven rivals with a stretch run.

“I thought he was going to come up real short, but he surprised me at the Gold Cup and he came back at Radnor and was very impressive,” Bourke said. “And I’m not just saying that because I train him. There were some nice horses in that race.”

The reward is an even tougher assignment Friday. Bred in Virginia by Audley Farm (and sold for $160,000 at Keeneland as a yearling), Curve Of Stones is 6-1 on the morning line behind 2-1 favorite and 2015 novice champion African Oil.

“I guess the big test is tomorrow,” Bourke said while getting ready to put his horse on the trailer Thursday afternoon. “He’s a well-built horse. He could be a little taller, but from the first day I hunted him he just took to it. Right from the start, he loved that. He’s a really scopey jumper, a really good jumper.”

French-bred African Oil is the horse to beat. He won three last year, including a Monmouth allowance, and halted a nine-month layoff with a third at the Iroquois May 14. Bernie Dalton rides the 6-year-old for his wife Kate and owner Gary Barber.

Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu (Jack Doyle) is the 3-1 second choice and exits a second at the Iroquois. The 6-year-old French-bred won a stakes and finished second three times in four American starts last year for trainer Leslie Young. Leading owner Irv Naylor will be represented by two – Jamarjo (a handicap winner at Radnor) and highweighted Sacred Soul (a novice stakes winner in 2013).

All For Us (Connor Hankin) makes his second start over jumps after winning his debut at the Iroquois in May. The 5-year-old is unbeaten in three starts this year, two on the flat for trainer Tom Proctor and the jump win for leading trainer Jack Fisher. Orchestra Leader seeks his first win (with six seconds) since April 2015. Keri Brion rides for trainer Jimmy Day. Dreamin Fool opened the year with a win at Aiken, but has labored since and was beaten 35 lengths in a handicap hurdle at the Iroquois. Kieran Norris rides for Doug Fout. Veteran Bodie Island makes his third start of the year after missing 2015 for The Elkstone Group and trainer Richard Valentine. Fisher also entered Causeworthy, who won his jump debut at Charlotte April 30 and finished fifth behind Curve Of Stones at Radnor.

– Monmouth’s Friday card kicks off with a $30,000 maiden hurdle and a full field of 10 (with four on the also-eligible list). Meteoroid makes his eighth start over jumps for trainer Leslie Young. The 5-year-old Dynaformer gelding has been third three times and second once. He gets plenty of competition from Fisher’s duo of Other Cheek, fifth at the Iroquois, and Jewish Holiday, fourth at Charlotte and pulled up at High Hope May 22. Travel True makes his debut for Sheppard while Elizabeth Voss puts blinkers on Desert Raider for his second run over jumps. Bishop’s Castle and Help From Heaven return after falling, while in contention, at the last fence in the Iroquois maiden. Analyst and Artie’s Flight, second and third respectively, at Radnor also return in a deep race while looking for tickets to Saratoga.

NOTES: First post at Monmouth is 12:50 with the third set for 1:43. In between the two 18-furlong hurdle races, 2-year-olds go 4 1/2 furlongs on the dirt. New Jersey-bred Lucky Six is the 8-5 favorite for trainer Anthony Margotta . . . Curve of Stones’ co-owner Pat Shepherd is retired from the U.S. Navy so make sure you get a look at the silks – a take on a Navy officer’s formal uniform . . . Out of the El Prado mare Exceptionally, Curve Of Stones his a half-brother to Wesley Ward-trained stakes winner Hooligan. A 2-year-old half-brother by Bodemeister sold for $250,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Florida sale of 2-year-olds in March . . . The summer jump schedule goes to Suffolk Downs July 9 and Parx July 10 and 12 before heading to Saratoga for a scheduled 12-race program. Suffolk also hosts Aug. 6 and Sept. 3.

Monmouth Park entries for Friday.