Year in Review: Keri Brion – What A Year

December 23, 2021

Rewind the clock twelve months and Jonathan Sheppard’s loyal assistant trainer of 12 years, Keri Brion, is in Ireland overseeing the training of six of the barn’s horses being aimed at a European jump racing campaign.

Within weeks the unexpected news came through that Sheppard was retiring from training. The former champion apprentice rider took out a licence in her own right, and the rest as they say is history. Yes, history being the appropriate word.

Brion spent the months that followed building her KB Stables LLC while based at James and Ellen Doyle’s in County Wexford, Ireland. She bought more Irish-bred horses she felt would be suited to US racing conditions and brought many new European owners on board, all new to the American jumps scene.

In April this year, the Pennsylvania-born fledgling handler made racing history when becoming the first American to train a National Hunt winner in Ireland. The Irv Naylor-owned Daniel Nevin-ridden Scorpion’s Revenge, a 25/1 chance, brought Brion victory in the Jim Ryan Racecourse Services (Pro/Am) Irish National Hunt Flat Race at Cork Racecourse. 

When the US-based horses arrived in Ireland months earlier, the hope had been that they would be competitive, that they could handle the winter underfoot conditions in Ireland. Having a winner, trained in her own name, meant an important box had been ticked for Brion – it showed the Irish trip had been a success.

Armed with her National Hunt win, Brion aimed for an Irish victory over jumps to perfectly round off her Irish adventure. This came at Wexford when she became the first American to train a winner over hurdles in Ireland. 

The 2 miles 4 furlong Slaney River (Mares) Maiden Hurdle was the history-making race with her 4/5f having a comfortable six and a half-length win. It was won by a five-year-old daughter of Doyen that was making only her third career start. The mare, bought by Buttonwood Farms LLC on the recommendation of Keri Brion, would go on to become the 2021 star of US jumps racing – that mare was The Mean Queen.

On her return to the USA, Keri Brion and her team based at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland, prepared their team for what would be an incredible season. 

Galway Kid provided Brion with her first Graded Stakes success at the Virginia Gold Cup meeting in May, a day on which The Mean Queen would take a $30,000 Allowance race. The Mean Queen followed up with success on Iroquois Steeplechase Day when the aptly-named Keri’s Find was the first part of a Brion double at Nashville. 

KB Racing took its stars to New York during the summer and incredibly claimed all 3 Grade 1 races at Saratoga and Belmont Park respectively. It was a 1-2 for Team Brion in the A.P. Smithwick Memorial Hurdle as Baltimore Bucko defeated French Light. A hugely important trifecta in the Jonathan Sheppard – the race named in honour of the man who taught her so much – saw The Mean Queen lead home Baltimore Bucko and French Light, before The Mean Queen then took The Lonesome Glory Hurdle at Belmont.

The Mean Queen, the first US-trained winner of a hurdle race in Ireland, gave Brion and her team a fourth Grade 1 of the season, defeating Snap Decision in the $150,000 The Grand National Hurdle Stakes – the mare’s third Grade 1 victory of the season. 

Historic Heart provided Keri Brion with her first winner at the prestigious Far Hills meeting when he won the Harry E. Harris Four Year Old Hurdle Stakes for new owners Atlantic Friends Racing.

A Silent Player was a first timber winner when taking The Steeplethon over 3m 1f at Callaway Gardens in Georgia. Towards the end of the year, the dual purpose handler had two impressive flat winners in Freddy Flintshire and Pleasecallmeback. 

Keri Brion ended the US jumps season as leading trainer by money won and the third leading conditioner by races won. The Mean Queen was the highest earning jumps horse in the country this year, as well as being the Novice Champion and Female Champion – she ends 2021 with five wins from six starts, having accumulated over $300,000. 

Sadly, with all the success and delight throughout the season, there was also the loss of the beautiful five-year-old gelded son of Sholokhov, Baltimore Bucko, in the William Entenmann Memorial Hurdle Stakes at Belmont Park in September, with Keri Brion stating on her Facebook page of the Saratoga Grade 1 winner:  “we miss him every day.”

All the incredible feats above have been achieved during Keri Brion’s first season as a trainer – a season that may be difficult to match again in terms of success. 

With Brion currently in Ireland sourcing more horses, coupled with the support of her loyal owners and the work of her diligent staff, you wouldn’t bet against her having another incredible season in 2022.

Photo: The Mean Queen (@JumpingwithNSA)

Contributing Authors

Breandán Ó hUallacháin

Breandán Ó hUallacháin writes about Irish, British, French and Australian horseracing, both National Hunt and Flat. He has an interest in the history of racing...

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