Three weeks after breaking both his right leg below the knee and his right ankle, Elige Bourne leans heavily on his crutches as he stands outside of his barn at Northlands. But with an all-but-certain champion named Shimshine in his barn that obviously has Derby aspirations Bourne still can’t help but grin.
“I’ve been training horses for over 25 years and, outside of the bush meets, I never trained a stakes winner before,” Bourne, 68, says of Shimshine, who won not one but two juvenile stakes last year - the Birdcatcher and the Alberta Futurity - for Walter Petruniak’s White Pine Ranch.
With earnings of $110,911 which was tops not only among all juveniles in Alberta last year but also all Alberta-breds of any age, all of this comes from a horse Bourne sharply claimed out of trainer Dale Saunders barn for $12,000 in the colt’s debut.
“We never really thought he’d turn out the way he did. We were just hoping he would make a decent two-year-old and then a useful three-year-old,” says Bourne. “We never dreamed he’s win two stakes races. But then a guy has to get lucky once in a while,” says Bourne who incurred his his injuries when a horse he was aboard lost its footing training, went up in the air and fell into the outside fence.
Just four days later Bourne, with two plates and 16 screws in his leg and ankle was back at work. “How do you not?” Bourne says matter-of-factly, a warm spring sun kissing his face. “How do you not come back as fast as you can when you’ve got horses to train - especially something as promising as this red guy?” he says pointing to Shimshine, a grand looking chestnut with a white blaze trickling down his nose.
While stepping up to claim a horse making its first start is usually a leap of faith, Bourne did have some inside information. “Shimshine was one of about a dozen two-year-olds that I was helping Wally Pugh get ready for his sale last February. “While I never worked him I had galloped him. He was a big, good looking guy and Wally liked him. Wally said he reminded him of Wilko, Shimeshine’s sire, who won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He also has Sky Classic in his bottom (dam’s side pedigree line),” Bourne says of the Canadian Thoroughbred Hall of Fame champion.
“He has a hell of a pedigree to be a race horse.” But dealing with Shimshine wasn’t always easy. “He was a bad dude to start out. He was not an easy horse to deal with. Gate wise. Post parade wise. He was on the gate list when he was tough to load. He was on the stewards list after he dumped Keishan Balgobin on post parade in the race I claimed him out of.”
The latter turned out fortunate for Bourne and Petruniak. “Normally when a horse gets loose on post parade they take off and get scratched. But, for some reason that day Shimshine just stopped and the outrider was able to catch him. “If the outrider didn’t catch him he probably would have been scratched and I wouldn’t have been able to claim him.”
And then there was the time last fall at Balzac’s Century Downs when Shimshine got loose in the barn area. “I had just bathed him and was taking him outside to walk and cool him off. But he had another thing in mind. He looked one way, looked the other way and then he just took off. Luckily I was able to get a shank around his neck. Fortunately for me there was a knot at the end of that shank so I was able to hold on. If that knot wasn’t there he would have been gone. But he still dragged me around the barn area through the manure and shavings piles and then some gravel. I was beat up pretty good; I had gravel burns everywhere especially up and down my arms.
“He’s a pretty heavy horse; he’s built solid. And I weigh about 110 pounds. So that’s nothing to him. He probably dragged me for two or three minutes. It felt like an eternity. I was just about to the point of letting go. But then all of a sudden he stopped. Someone asked me after it was over why I didn’t just let him go and I said ‘Guess which horse that is?’ “Lucky.”
Before Bourne trained horses he was a jockey - winning just under 2,000 races at Alberta’s bush meets in both thoroughbred and quarter horse races. “Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Milo, Trochu… I rode everywhere. If you can name a track in Alberta I was there,” says Bourne, who rode for almost 25 years. Sometimes I’d ride double cards. I’d ride a full card in Milo in the afternoon and then drive an hour or so to Lethbridge and ride another nine or 10 horses. There was one horses, Noctu, that I won 21 of 22 races with. But then weight got to be a problem and I had to quit riding. I’m actually lighter now than I was when I rode. I’m eating more sensible now. No junk food. If you eat properly you don’t gain a lot of weight.”
As well as the Birdcatcher and the Alberta Premiers, Shimshine also won his maiden - winning by five and a half lengths - as well as an allowance race. All four were consecutive. “It’s tough to win five in a row but I thought we had a real good chance in the Canadian Juvenile too,” Bourne recalls of the colt’s last start of the year on Oct. 29. Shimshine finished third that day but Bourne called it a “clunker. No excuses. He just didn’t run his race. I had to live with that all winter.” Bourne was hoping to run Shimshine on Saturday in an open, three-year-old allowance but when only three other horses entered the race was cancelled.
“I was hoping to use that race as a prep for the (June 2) Western Canada, the first stakes race of the year for three-year-olds. Now I’ll have to train him up to that race. It’s definitely not ideal. I’d have much sooner got a start under him. But what can you do? I’ll just have to work him up to that race.”
STOCK REPORT - Saturday’s card features the Journal Handicap which is loaded with talent: Trooper John, Blue Dancer, Hemlock Channel, Killin Me Smalls, Sir Bronx, Born in a Breeze, and Quick and Silver, a beautiful grey that has been running and winning in California and who finished second in a Vancouver stakes race in his last start - a race where Trooper John ran third.
Quick and Silver boasts plenty of early speed which is also Blue Dancer’s running style. If they hook up and the fractions are fast, expect a calvary charge. Saturday evening is the annual awards dinner where the champions of 2017 will be feted.
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