Trainer Mark Hennig Chats Bourbon War in Fountain of Youth, Derby Trail

The Life

Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on Saturday, May 4, at Churchill Downs.

In the latest installment, he speaks to Mark Hennig, who trains promising Bourbon War for owners Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable.

Bourbon War made a winning debut, taking an off-the-turf race at one mile on Nov. 14 at Aqueduct. He took a crack at the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes 17 days later and may have shown the effects of the quick turnaround when he finished fourth. He returned to his winning ways in a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming race on Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park, rallying and splitting horses for a widening 2 1/4-length margin.

He is set to face the biggest test of his young career in the $400,000, Grade 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Irad Ortiz Jr., winner of the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in North America in 2018, will be aboard. They will break from post-position four in a field of 11 and are listed at 10-1 on the morning line.

PEDULLA: I saw that Bourbon War did not debut until Nov. 14. Had you hoped to get a race into him earlier?

HENNIG: He kind of needed the time for maturity. I don’t think lack of racing is going to keep him from getting where we want to be. He’s just got to have the ability to get there.

Bourbon War (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

PEDULLA: What are your thoughts on the Remsen?

HENNIG: We ran him back on very short rest compared to what we normally do. The race appeared to be coming up a little light at the time, at least field size, so we decided to take a shot.

PEDULLA: What went into the decision to move him to Florida?

HENNIG: That’s a pretty easy decision at that time of year. You hope to have uninterrupted training.

PEDULLA: In what ways has he progressed?

HENNIG: When I got him to Florida and started breezing him, I realized after running him a couple of times he was a lot different horse training in the mornings. He was never real focused as a young 2-year-old. Over the summer, there were times when he would throw in a work that left you really puzzled. Since he’s run, he’s done things really professionally.

PEDULLA: You have described his last race as a great learning experience. In what way?

HENNIG: Well, he was covered up between horses, had to kind of pick his way through a crowd. He came through an opening at the quarter-pole that not a lot of young horses would have been willing to run through. I thought those were all good signs.

PEDULLA: I know some of the sons of Tapit can be challenging. How is he to be around?

HENNIG: I can’t say he has any behavioral issues other than he’s a bit of an aggressive biter in the stall. Other than that, he’s all business on the racetrack. That makes things nice. He’s got a great mind, especially for a Tapit.

PEDULLA: What does it mean to you to have Irad riding the horse back?

HENNIG: It sure helps. Any time you can have one of the top riders and someone who is familiar with the horse, it’s an advantage that some of the others don’t have.

PEDULLA: How do you think Bourbon War will fare as the distances increase?

HENNIG: I haven’t seen any sign that he can’t handle distance. We’ll take it one race at a time and see how it goes. In this day and age, the Derby is kind of won by the eighth pole. I’m not sure a lot of them want to go the true mile and a quarter.

PEDULLA: How hard is it just to get a horse to the Derby?

HENNIG: There are 20 spots. It’s a big crop for 20 spots. It’s not only a challenge to get a horse that has the ability, but then to keep him together, having racing luck on your side, get the points. There are a lot of factors.

PEDULLA: Will the Fountain of Youth be a defining race for Bourbon War in determining whether he belongs on the Derby trail?

HENNIG: I think we’ll come away with a clear picture, hopefully, of which direction we’re headed in.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!