When it comes to racing in the North West of NSW, it would be a stretch to find someone more likeable and down to earth than Moree trainer, John Bourke.
The 74-year-old, who was the long-time clerk of the course at Moree, trained his first winner with Ringside at Inverell back in October of 2020.
After some success with honest sprinter Vertical, which won races at Coonabarabran and Moree, Bourke had a break from training for most of 2022 following the passing of his daughter Jody Bourke after a long battle with illness.
The veteran trainer and horseman returned to the sport late last year, with Charming Sam winning at Inverell in November, and he now has two gallopers in work, with Vertical returning to the yard, while he has been joined by promising maiden galloper, Skyforger.
“It’s been pretty well-documented that my daughter got really sick and died, and I had a break from racing, and we sent Vertical up to Pat Webster,” Bourke said.
“It was hard but I’m back training, and it’s good having him (Vertical) back, and we have only got the two in work; it gives you a reason to get out of bed, and my wife likes it, and we will continue doing that for a while.”
Bourke heads to Gunnedah on Thursday, and he will team up with regular hoop Jodi Worley, who will ride Vertical in the 1000m Benchmark 58 Handicap and Skyforger in the 1300m Maiden Plate.
Skyforger is a seven-start maiden, which previously raced in Victoria for Anthony and Sam Freedman before being purchased by John’s brother, Danny Bourke.
The three-year-old had his first run in NSW when finishing second over 1400m at Inverell on New Year’s Day, and connections expect another bold run at Gunnedah.
“I’d like to hope he can run a good race. I don’t know about Gunnedah, as it might be a bit short for him,” Bourke said.
“Over 1400m at Inverell, he was doing his best work at the finish, so it might be a bit short over 1300m, but having said that, he is in a bit better with the weights, as the winner at Inverell carried 6kg less, so that might make up for it.”
Skyforger’s Inverell debut was the gelding’s first attempt at the NSW way of going, and Bourke believes he will be better for the run at Gunnedah, and bookmakers agree, with the Moree galloper opening up as the $3.40 favourite.
“He’s settled in nicely and he is a nice horse; he’s a little bit of a handful, but we were aware of that when he left down south,” Bourke said.
“He hit a flat spot at Inverell and had a little look around, but he’s improving, and we will see how he goes.”
Bourke will be looking to win his fourth race with Vertical, who enters the five-furlong sprint fourth-up this preparation.
The six-year-old, which is a $10 chance from gate 12, did finish a good third at Tamworth when second-up over 1200m, and Bourke is questioning whether the Proisir gelding is better suited to six furlongs these days.
“He seems to be going good and I think he is possibly better suited over 1200m now,” Bourke said.
“I’m not sure if it’s because of his age, but having said that, it really depends on how the race is run.
“He is a horse that likes to drop out and come home and put it this way, we would rather him drawn wide than Skyforger, and if they run along a bit, he will be hitting the line strongly.
“Jodi Worley understands the horse really well, and she’s won on him three times, and she will give him every chance.”
Bourke won’t be the only trainer looking for a winner or two at Gunnedah on Thursday, with the club hosting their seven-race Summer race meeting.
There is a full bar and canteen servicing the meeting, and the club is offering patrons free entry, with families encouraged to get along to the always-popular race day.