Middleburg Spring Races on April 23 went quite well for Keri Brion whose ten entries in seven races resulted in winning four of the eight carded. Luck is always welcome in racing and in life, but it can’t take all the credit for Brion’s meteoric rise as head trainer. Driven by her love for horses, Brion found her vocation in racing and spent twelve years as assistant trainer to Jonathan Sheppard.
In July 2020, when the legendary flat and jump Hall of Famer announced his retirement, Brion was campaigning Sheppard’s horses in Ireland. She didn’t miss a beat, took out her own license and carried on with her mentor’s blessings and priceless support of Sheppard’s owners who stayed.
Brion got off to a great start and made history as the first American to train a National Hunt winner in Ireland. Under her recommendation, Buttonwood Farm purchased The Mean Queen, just five and starting over hurdles. The mare won her third career start at Wexford in Maiden Hurdles (Mares) by six and a half lengths.
Racing in the US under NSA rules, The Mean Queen won five of six starts earning $303,000 and ran away with 2021 Eclipse Steeplechase Award. The wins are real: Brion’s success reflects her lifetime passion for horses, determined work ethic, and years of experience and knowledge training some of the best horses in racing with Sheppard.
Brion’s winners at Glenwood include: Buttonwood Farm’s Sa’ad – Training Flat; The International Venture’s Going Country (IRE) – Allowance Hurdle; Hudson River Farm’s Iranistan in Grade 2 Temple Gwathney Hurdle Stakes; Metalhorse Racing’s Kicking Myself (IRE) in Mare & Filly Maiden Hurdle.
Storm Team, owned by Sheila Williams, trained by Jack Fisher, scored a big timber win in the Middleburg Hunt Cup with Graham Watters doing the honors (see photo). They crossed the finish way ahead of Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu, trained by Leslie Young. First Friday, trained by Doug Fout, was third for Four Virginia Gents. In Maiden Hurdle, Kiplin Hall’s Take Profit, trained by William Dowling, prevailed by one length over Riverdee Stable’s Awakened. Who’s Counting, trained and ridden by Sean McDermott, won the Maiden Claiming Hurdle by two lengths.
In the final race of the day, six started the Steeplethon, two pulled up. Silverton Hill LLC’s Bodes Well (IRE) took off to win by 27½ lengths (by Will O’Keefe’s CEO statistics), besting Irvin Naylor’s A Silent Prayer, trained by Brion. Kiplin Hall’s Real Good Man (IRE) finished third with Bruton Street’s Gowiththeflow (IRE) in fourth.
Sunday, April 23, offered more unseasonable heat for Loudoun Hunt Point-to-point at Morven Park. The one-mile Sidesaddle Flat started four with Cherry Blossom Farm’s Soul Approval and aside veteran Devon Zebrovious winning despite the late challenge by Sky Babe and Lauren Apple. Bird’s The Word lost his rider with about two furlongs to go; Drifter went off-course.
US Pony Racing was delayed one hour until the human ambulance arrived. Ponies and junior jockeys conducted themselves very well, considering their fitness. It was a crowd-pleaser, as expected.
Small Ponies (1/4 mile flat): Lickety Split and Yomar Ortiz Jr scored a two-length win over hard-driving Mallory and Cami Kern with Imogen Weaver’s Olney Yes Ma’am and Skye Gammon in third. Ortiz also won Medium Ponies (3/8 mile flat) with EHM Stables’ Blueberry, followed by Fiona and Ellet Sharp, with Tess Garadhajian and Charleston third. Large Ponies (1/2 mile flat): Jaidyn Shore piloted EHM Stables’ Mini to 3½ length decision over Bailey and James Wyatt, followed by Goose and Carley Kern.
Neil Morris saddled two winners. In the VHBPA Virginia Bred flat, Pathfinder Racing’s Gas Money, Graham Watters up, staged a late challenge to prevail by half-length over Gordon Keys’ Keys Discount, trained by Sam Cockburn. Post War, trained by Julie Gomena for Overcreek Stables, ran third. In Restricted Young Adult Flat, Shannon Hill Farm’s Best Chance, piloted by Parker Hendriks, posted a 20-length romp to the wire ahead of Big Dave and Camilla deStanley.
Fisher-trained Beat Le Bon (FR) won first division of Maiden Hurdle. Montmartre D’Ange (Fr), trained by Brion, won the second division of Maiden Hurdle. Brion’s second winner on the card was Baltimore Kid (IRE) in Maiden Flat. Embrace the Grind, owned by Wendy Henriks, trained by Ricky Hendriks, won going away in Open Flat.
On March 26 Piedmont Foxhounds’ point-to-point took a hit from Mother Nature with cold temps, rain, sleet, and wind. Sporting enthusiasts, cozily chic in waterproof coats and hats, braved the elements while some sought shelter in their vehicles until the front passed.
Julie Gomena scored the first win, Maiden Timber, with Bon Nouvel Chasers II’s Ya Boy Ya (IRE), piloted by McLane Hendricks. After the last fence, when Hendricks asked, the seven-year-old gelding propelled them up the hill to prevail by 1¼ lengths over Cracker Factory. Six maidens started: four finished, one pulled up, one went off course.
The combined running of Ladies Timber and Rokeby Challenge Bowl dished up an exciting finish. Teddy Davies and Mystic Strike surged across the line a neck in front of Be Counted and Liz Scully, who finished two-lengths in front of Cocodimama and Chloe Hannum for the Ladies’ win.
In the Virginia Bred Flat race, Gas Money, trained by Morris, ridden by McLane Hendricks, posted a comfortable five-length finish over Zoe Valvo’s Lorinska.
At Old Dominion Point-to-point on April 9, Amateur/Novice Hurdle kicked off the action: Morris-trained Knockholt, ridden by Parker Hendriks engaged in a stretch duel with Irvin Naylor’s Amschel (GB). Knockholt won by a head.
Maiden Hurdle, second on the card, split 27 entries into three divisions of nine, seven and eight. Maidens (no jump wins) are new to ‘chasing, still learning the game. Unfortunately, one of our most experienced photographers out there was injured in the first division when a loose horse slammed into him. Thankfully, Richard Clay is going to be okay. Blessings and prayers for complete recovery to you, my colleague and friend!
The owner of 2014 Eclipse Steeplechase Award winner Demonstrative, Jacqueline Ohrstrom, has a new contender in Connagh’s Quay. Trainer Richard Valentine knows how to pick a horse and this one ran the money in its first career start at Virginia Fall Races. Once again piloted by Barry John Foley, Connagh’s Quay put in a powerful finish to relegate two Brion-trained maidens, Caughtmeoncamera (IRE)) and L Jay (IRE), to second and third respectively.
In the second division of Maiden Hurdle, Foley posted a nearly five-length win with Turbo Drive for owner Irvin Naylor whose French Light won Novice Rider Flat. In the final Maiden Hurdle division, Bruton Street US’s Agravain (GB) with Tom Garner in the irons won the long stretch battle by a head over Bourke Racing’s Economic Policy, trained by David Bourke.
Northern-based horses, riders and trainers won their share of timber and flat as well as hurdle races. Cracker Factory (GB), trained by Mark Beecher, ridden by Brett Owings, owned by The Hundred Acre Field, established a long lead in Amateur and Novice Rider Timber, took a brief breather and rallied to win by nine lengths.
The final contest involved locals in the Leeds Manor Virginia Bred Flat Race. Bruce Collette’s Eryx established a big early lead but missed a beacon. Gomena and Over Creek Stables’ Post War, Ross Geraghty in the plate, charged to a nearly 10-length win over Lorinska, trained by Zoe Valvo.
Blue Ridge Point-to-point on April 17 ran six races with two to five starters. The only local trainer to triumph was Sam Cockburn (C & T Stables) with Gordon Keys’ Keys Discount, whose longterm plans include running over hurdles. Piloted by Emmi Fullilove, the four-year-old gelding won the Virginia Bred or Sired Flat by almost two lengths over Mountain Express. A third starter, Mygrandmaisrachel, was disqualified
Mark Beecher saddled two winners, both piloted by Brett Owings: Felix Leiter in Maiden Hurdle, and Real Story in Novice Rider Flat. Elizabeth Ross trains Bella Coola, winner of Novice Rider Hurdle, Colin Smith doing the honors. Casey Pinkard had two winners: Huyana (topline great-grandsire is Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew) romped with Smith to 30-length finish in Restricted Young Adult Flat, and Profiteer, owned by Frank A. Bonsai Jr, ridden by Paul Cawley, in Maiden Timber.
Spring ‘chasing concludes with two popular meets: Middleburg Hunt Point-to-point on Sunday, May 1 at Glenwood Park, and the Virginia Gold Cup on Saturday, May 7, at Great Meadow.
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