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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Mean Queen, Baltimore Bucko & French Light run 1, 2, 3 for Keri Brion

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.--Keri Brion saddled the first, second and third placed horses in the $150,000, 2 3/8 mile, G1 Jonathan Sheppard Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 1.

The Mean Queen Tom Garner tight to wire in Sheppard 6The Mean Queen leads Baltimore Bucko and French Light (left) at the wire (Photo by Tod Marks)Formerly known as the New York Turf Writers Cup, the race was run as the Jonathan Sheppard for the first time, in honor of the Hall of Fame trainer who won the race a record 15 times and trained at least one winner at Saratoga every year from 1969 to 2015.

Brion worked for Sheppard for 11 years, much of that as his assistant trainer.

"Jonathan taught me everything I know, so all credit goes to him," said Brion after winning the Sheppard..

Brion took horses to Ireland last winter to train as his assistant and became the trainer when Sheppard announced his retirement, and she was still in Ireland when it was announced that the Turf Writers would be renamed in his honor,

She said at the time that she hoped she'd have at least one horse to tun in the race, and instead ran four, finishing first, second, third and eighth with A Silent Player.



“ALL FOUR of these horses came out of the same stable , Baltimore Stables in Wexford, Ireland, which is pretty incredible,” Brion said, and all four were bought by the Moorheads and Irv Naylor on her recommendation.

When Brion took over as trainer, the Moorheads of Buttonwood Farm, Irv Naylor and Ed Swyer of Hudson River Farms  all stayed with her.

Buttonwood owns The Mean Queen and  Baltimore Bucko, and Naylor owns French Light.

"I am really lucky to have such great owners," said Brion. "It’s so exciting for two of the greatest people, Rod and Alice Moorhead, to win, and Irvin Naylor to be third. They’ve been so supportive.”

Baltimore Bucko, under Richard Condon.88 went straight to the front, as he had in the A.P. Smithwick, which he had won, while The Mean Queen, ridden by Tom Garner, ran third early, but she didn't settle until the second circuit of the track.

“I was just a passenger, really,” Garner said. “She was doing a little bit too much for the first mile and a half. She was running through the bridle a little bit and when I got her settled, she traveled so great and jumped so great. She’s everything you want in a filly. I couldn’t be happier.

“She’s only 5 and realistically hasn’t had a lot of racing,” he said. “This time last year, she hadn’t even had a run. She was still getting prepped to run in a point-to-point in Ireland. To come here and run in a G1 eight or nine months after her first race is a massive achievement.”

Garner also said he took the outcome of the A.P. Smithwick personally, when he fell off after The Mean Queen was leading by 6 in the stretch and then, after bearing left under a left handed whip, she jumped right to miss a cone and lost Garner, but was glad to earn redemption less than a month later.

“I know a lot of people would have had a lot of money on her at those odds, but there wouldn’t have been anyone more gutted than I was,” Garner said. “I walked to the weighing room, got in the car and went straight home. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I didn’t want to see anyone because this is what I love doing. I love riding winners and for that to happen, especially at a place like this which I love, it was actually heartbreaking. I know a lot of people on social media and close to the horse think I jumped off it, and that’s probably an uneducated view of the race. I’m just glad that I made it better today. There was no one more gutted or upset about the last day than me.”

The Mean Queen moved up to challenge Baltimore Bucko on the final turn and dew away in the stretch under a hand ride, with no whip this time.

"Tom wasn't going to make that mistake again," said Brion.

Baltimore Bucko, who picked up 14 pounds after winning the Smithwick, was giving nine pounds to The Mean Queen and ran a very gutsy race to place second, holding off French Light.

“He carried top weight,: said Condon. "He’s gone up a stone since he won here the last time and to go out there on the rain-softened ground and do what he did and stay on for second is a real performance. The Mean Queen is quite a special mare and giving her nine pounds isn’t easy. It was a great run from Baltimore Bucko.”

"We never realized how good The Mean Queen was, because we had never tested her before," said Brion. "On paper, we thought they might finish one, two , three, but you can never tell with jump racing. Unfortunately, French Light was stuck behind Bucko when Bucko jumped the last fence poorly, otherwise I think he'd have been second. The horses ran according to plan. I was super happy with French Light. He didn't have things go his way."

"A Silent Player got a nasty gash on his front leg that I think affected him," said Brion. "I think he escaped a real bad injury, but you probably won't seen him again until the fall."

 City Dreamer, trained by Jack Fisher, Recent Revelations, trained by Ricky Hendriks, Gibralfaro, trained by Fisher, Redicean, trained by Leslie Young, and A Silent Player completed the order of finish.

With the prize money from the Sheppard, Brion moved into first place in Trainer, Money Won, over Fisher, while Fisher continues to lead in Trainer, Races Won, with eight wins over Brion, Kathy Neilson and Young, tied with seven wins apiece.

"If The Mean Queen comes out of this okay, she'll go to the G1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont," said Brion. "The novice race at Saratoga didn't fill. Bucko and French Light are both still novices, and there's a novice race at Belmont. I'll have to talk to the owners to see if we run them in the novice or in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont."

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