Bourke’s not in it for cash
No, really, who wants to be a millionaire?
It almost seems as though they can't give the stuff away. Yes, Darragh Bourke recently acquired a Volkswagen Golf, and he'd be glad enough to have that paid off. But who, in the words of the song, wants a fancy foreign car?
A morning with Bourke's employer, Noel Meade, establishes beyond all doubt that romance, not avarice, animates the carnival of chance at Cheltenham next month.
The sky lay heavily on the intimate Co Meath landscape, and the ravens made their own sardonic observations as Meade, seven times champion jumps trainer, watched Go Native breezing under Bourke.
“He's moving really well,” the young man enthused afterwards. “The last furlong, it was like he spread wings.”
Go Native is one of the favourites for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle, a prize that would redress the many cruel and unusual experiences Meade has endured at Cheltenham over the years.
Potentially, the race might also have changed the life of Bourke, a 20-year-old from Co Tipperary. For Go Native has already won the first two legs of the WBX Triple Crown, comprising the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
WBX, an online betting exchange, will pay a £1 million bonus to any horse that completes the treble.
The bulk of that prize, naturally, would go to Go Native's owners — but £50,000 would be divided among Meade's staff, and fully £100,000 would go to the horse's own groom.
Until Christmas, the man eligible for that windfall was Bourke. But then he had a decision to make. “When I left school at 16, to come here, my dream was to ride winners for Noel Meade,” he said.
“My dream wasn't to have a lot of money. I've always looked up to the boss, so it was a dream to work for him — never mind to ride in races for him.”
Then, on St Stephen's Day, he had the chance to ride the favourite in a bumper at Limerick. The only problem was that Go Native was running at Kempton the same afternoon.
The retirement of Harchibald, the horse who had himself once come so close to winning a Champion Hurdle, left Alan McIlroy available to go to Kempton.
But if McIlroy, with a wife and son, was to be stuck in Kempton for Christmas, he would have to take over Go Native for good.
Bourke did not hesitate. He rode Original Option at Limerick, and won. An hour or so earlier, Go Native had already won a photo finish at Kempton.
“And I hope he goes on and wins at Cheltenham,” he insisted. “I hope Alan gets the hundred grand, and if he does I'll be as happy for him as I know he would have been for me.
“Hopefully in a few years I'll be riding loads of winners, and he'll be in his big house with stables, training horses for me to ride! It's the same through the yard. There's no bickering over who'll get what.”