Charlestown Horse Owner Rooting Hard for ‘Bourbon War’

Charlestown’s Mark Sullivan doesn’t particularly care for mint juleps, but if his horse ‘Bourbon War’ finishes the race season strong, he will gladly be sipping juleps at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.

Charlestown’s Mark Sullivan is a partner in the racehorse Bourbon War, who has made a huge showing lately on the Thoroughbred circuit. The horse has several points towards the Kentucky Derby, and a race in Florida on March 30 could take him over the top and get him into the field at Churchill Downs this year.

Sullivan – who has lived for 19 years at Flagship Wharf, and also has his family’s engineering company in Charlestown at Schrafft’s Center – has his money riding on his latest horse, Bourbon War, and this time around the horse has a really good shot at making the field for the Kentucky Derby – the largest horse race in America.

Sullivan told the paper he is a partner in the Bourbon Lane Stables of Kentucky, and the latest horse Sullivan is a partner in to come blazing out of that stable is Bourbon War. After the horse finished second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes two weeks ago – a Derby qualifier – the table seemed to be set for a showdown on March 30 at the Florida Derby.

Bourbon War is fourth in overall Derby points now, and the Florida Derby carries 200 qualifying points and a $1 million purse. If they win or just “hit the board,” his horse would be in the Kentucky Derby this year.

It is one of the most exciting times yet, Sullivan said, for a hobby he started in order to slow down from his active life.

“Bourbon War is a great closer and in the Fountain of Youth he came barreling back and got nipped at the wire – getting second,” he said. “I’m optimistic about the Florida Derby and our chances at the Kentucky Derby. I don’t know whose running yet, but we’re going to be there and he’ll do well, God willing.”

Sullivan said he originally got into investing in horses around 2014 when his fiancée, Julia O’Donnell, told him he needed a more sedentary hobby. As a very active person, Sullivan was constantly into training for triathlons and other extreme sports.

“It’s funny, I was just looking for a hobby that was less active,” he said.

Through some business partners and co-workers, he learned of the horse racing community and was introduced to Bourbon Lane, where he started investing in partnerships for their horses. With most horses requiring a lot of money to get up and racing, there are usually about 20 partners on each horse. He invested in several Bourbon-bred horses, and some had some great successes. His first was Bourbon State of Mind, and there was also Moe Bourbon and Urban Bourbon. However, none had the success so far that Bourbon War has had.

Sullivan said he has been excited to see the horse progress.

Most horses blossom when they are 2 years old, in preparation for when they are 3 years old, when they can run the Kentucky Derby. Bourbon War blossomed very recently.

“Bourbon War wasn’t a good 2-year-old until the end, and then he put it all together,” he said. “The horse ‘Justified’ was the same way. He didn’t make it as a 2-year-old and developed as a 3-year-old. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Through it all, Sullivan and his family have enjoyed keeping track of the horses they’re involved with, and he said it has exposed him to a whole new world. He said there are handicappers who have an amazing ability to follow horses, knowing all their bloodlines and what conditions give them the best race. That, he said, is something he’s still working on, but it is yet another challenge in a hobby that has exposed him to an exciting world he never knew existed.

“A friend of mine told me there are three kinds of men:  men who gamble, men who golf and men who like horses,” he said. “I don’t go golfing or anything, so I guess I’m the one who likes horses. I get the paper and I’ll look at it during the week to see what my horse is doing. I look at the races and hear from the trainers, and it’s become a fun hobby. It’s been a close look into an industry I knew nothing about.”

Sullivan said Bourbon War has 21 points right now towards the Kentucky Derby, and most in the field need at least 30 points. A good showing at the Florida Derby could almost certainly earn him a spot in the field.

“Hey, I don’t like mint juleps,” he said. “I tried one once and it wasn’t what I expected. If we get to the Kentucky Derby, I think I can make myself like them at Churchill Downs.”

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