SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. --Keri Brion will have three chances for a repeat victory in Wednesday’s G1, $150,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial steeplechase at 2 1/16-miles at the Saratoga race track.
Brion enjoyed a breakout year in 2021, sweeping all of NYRA’s G1 steeplechase races and all but one of America’s top-level jumping races.
Last year, The Mean Queen, trained by Brion, won the Steeplechase Eclipse Award after a campaign that included a victory in the G1 Jonathan Sheppard Handicap at Saratoga, where Brion also finished second and third with Baltimore Bucko and French Light.
Baltimore Bucko also won last year's Smithwick with a strong front-running performance, ridden by Tom Garner.
That win was the first Grade 1 for both Baltimore Bucko and Brion.
“It’s so crazy,” Brion said of entering three top horses for a chance at another Smithwick. “These three are very good, and I really don’t know which one I’d choose. Their works last week were all really good.”
Leading Brion’s Smithwick trio is the veteran gelding Iranistan, winner of the G2 Temple Gwathmey over multiple graded stakes-winner Snap Decision in April at Middleburg.
The 8-year-old son of Einstein ran a close second in the 2018 running of the Smithwick for Hall of Fame conditioner Jonathan Sheppard and followed with a third in the G1 New York Turf Writers Cup [now the Jonathan Sheppard Handicap] the same year.
“IRANISTAN is fabulous,” Brion said. “He’s had some injuries so he’s quite lightly raced, but he’s in great form. He loves his job and loves to run and compete. He’ll show up. To beat Snap Decision, he was at the top of his game.
“He breezes just as good as the young horses do,” said Brion. “We train them similarly to the flat horses because they have to run home that last straight. He can work three quarters in 1:15 in hand. He shows no signs of backing up or slowing down.”
Iranistan did not finish in his latest outing after a bad jump early in the G1 Iroquois on May 14 at Percy Warner where stablemate Historic Heart also did not finish.
“We didn’t really have a great day for the Iroquois,” said Brion. “Our horses were too sharp for the course and had to relax and settle. We’ll throw out that race. Both are doing good, and I expect both to run really well.”
Iranistan, who was assigned the second-heaviest weight in the field at 152 pounds, will be ridden by Jack Doyle.
Historic Heart, a 5-year-old gelded son of Fracas, will make his Saratoga debut after winning the Carolina Cup Hurdle in April at Camden.
Brion said distance limitations can be blamed for his last-out troubles in the 3 mile Iroquois.
“He doesn’t want three miles. He’s a sharp, speedy type and Saratoga will suit him,” said Brion. “My stable jockey Parker Hendriks had his choice of the three and chose to ride him, and he’s won on all three of these horses.”
Historic Heart will carry 148 pounds.
French Light, who finished a game runner-up in this event last year behind stablemate Baltimore Bucko, posted a dominating 5 1/4-length allowance victory going 2 3/8 miles at Saratoga in 2020 before shipping to Ireland where he finished a close second in the INH Stallion Owners EBF Hurdle.
The 7-year-old son of Muhtathir most recently won the Queens Cup on April 30 at Charlotte by 3/4 length after closing from last of four.
“He won his only start this year and runs his best races fresh,” said Brion. “He won a stake in April and he’s been training really well for this. He loves Saratoga and hopefully can finish one better than last year.”
French Light, ridden by Harrison Beswick, will carry 144.
Leslie Young, who leads in Trainer Races Won, has entered Pistol Whipped, who will carry the high weight of 158 pounds.
Pistol Whipped most recently was second to Snap Decision in the G1 Iroquois, where he briefly lost position but battled back well to place second, 2 1/4-lengths ahead of third placed Amschel.
The son of Beneficial was a four-time winner in England prior to his American debut in the Iroquois.
Young will also saddle G2 winner Redicean, who will carry 144 pounds.
He won the G2 David Semmes Memorial on May 7 at Great Meadow.
His lone victory at Saratoga came in 2019 in the Jonathan Kiser Novice.
Pistol Whipped will be ridden by Nicolai DeBoinville, while Tom Garner has the ride on Redicean.
Completing the field are Chief Justice, ridden by Barry Foley, who will carry146 pounds for Cyril Murphy, and the Kate Dalton-trained mare Down Royal, ridden by Bernard Dalton, who will carry 141 pounds.
The A.P. Smithwick is the first race on Wednesday’s card, at 1:05 p.m.
Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports, with replays available on NYRA website, https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/replays.
You can also live stream via the NSA website, www.nationalsteeplechase.com.
For the complete TV broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.