Talk about going out with a bang. After becoming the first American trainer ever to win a race in Ireland on the steeplechase circuit — a bumper flat at Cork on April 4 with Scorpion’s Revenge — Keri Brion struck again today, this time etching her name in the history books as the first U.S.-based conditioner to be victorious in an Irish hurdle race. The winner: Buttonwood Farms’ The Mean Queen at Wexford Racecourse.
Making only her third career start, and first over jumps, the five-year-old daughter of Doyen was sent off as the favorite in the field of 11 in the 2 ½-mile contest, and broke her maiden convincingly by six widening lengths under jockey John O’Neill.
After getting off to a bit of a tardy start, The Mean Queen advanced slowly and steadily to mid pack, racing on the outside. By the fifth fence, she was in third and moving easily under a very confident O’Neill, and took aim at the leaders with a half-mile to run. With a quarter mile left, The Mean Queen assumed command as O’Neill shook the reins and asked her for run. In the words of the chartcaller, The Mean Queen won comfortably.
The victory brought down the curtain on Brion’s remarkable winter excursion to Ireland with a string of horses owned by Buttonwood’s Rod Moorhead, Irv Naylor, and Ed Swyer’s Hudson River Farm. The trip, which began in November with Brion in the official role of assistant to Jonathan Sheppard, took an unexpected twist in January when the Hall of Fame trainer, at home in Florida, announced his retirement. Brion was able to obtain her Irish training license and took over the team, only to encounter bad weather and bad luck, coming close to wins on several occasions but never quite grabbing the brass ring. Until recently.
After the race, Brion had this to say: “She (The Mean Queen) was very unlucky at Down Royal Racecourse. The mare who won that race also won a bumper at Aintree yesterday so it was a form boost. I’ve always thought very highly of her, and she proved today how good she is. She’ll only improve from here and I can’t wait to see her in the States.”
That next start could come at the Iroquois Races in Nashville on June 26, either in the filly and mare stake or an allowance hurdle against males. From there, it’s off to Saratoga.
Owner Moorhead acquired The Mean Queen in Ireland last fall on Brion’s recommendation. “She showed so much promise when I saw her. She has a very good page and Rod loves to grow his breeding program and loves the idea of incorporating mares who don’t run on lasix.”
On Sunday, Brion heads home with eight horses to her new base, at Fair Hill in Maryland. Accompanying her will be Eclipse Award winner Winston C, who was bothered by nagging little setbacks on the trip and finished off the board in his only start; Baltimore Bucko, who fell at the last while on the lead in a novice hurdle handicap at Cork on March 17; and French Light, whose best finish was a second at Clonmel in a novice weight-for-age hurdle in January. She’s also bringing back five new jumpers. Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge is returning, too, but Cyril Murphy will take over training duties.
“I’m very very lucky to have some of the best owners behind me and I can’t thank Mr. and Mrs. Moorhead enough for buying ‘The Queen’ and allowing me to bring her home now and train her,” Brion said. “I have a lot to look forward to. I’m now the first American trainer to train a bumper winner and a hurdle winner in Ireland and that is so special to me.”
Click here to watch a replay of today’s race.