Jump Notebook: ’Queen’ misses a start

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Six weeks into the steeplechase season, it’s well past time to reset the table so here goes an attempt as April comes to a close.

Where’s the Queen?
Breaking news…Breaking news…Breaking news… Well, sort of.

The Mean Queen missed a flat start at Loudon Point-to-Point last weekend with what thus far appears to be a minor injury. Trainer Keri Brion said last year’s champion steeplechaser pulled up lame in a recent gallop at Fair Hill Training Center and missed some time.

Cue the gasps, eerie music and all the rest. But it sounds like she’s fine. Or will be.

“Joys of a horse trainer, right?” said Brion Thursday afternoon. “She was galloping 2 miles and was being pretty exuberant, put it that way, and she banged herself. A leg had a little bit of filling. It scans fine. She’s fine, but you want to make sure.”

In the meantime, Buttonwood Farm’s 6-year-old mare is walking on an Aquatread at the Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center, standing in the cold spa and waiting. Brion said another scan this coming week would dictate the next step, and also said the timing won’t necessarily affect her planned 2022 debut at the Iroquois May 14.

“We’re not in the middle of the season,” the trainer said. “It’s important get started whenever we can, so if she has to miss Nashville and starts in the Jonathan Sheppard [at Saratoga] or whatever we have to do, that’s fine.”

Most trainers want some sort of a prep – jump or flat – before the 3-mile Iroquois, but Brion feels like her mare can adapt to a different schedule if she must. Her chief rivals Snap Decision and Iranistan ran in the 2 1/2-mile Temple Gwathmey over hurdles Saturday. Some others who might make an Iroquois attempt run today at Foxfield.

“She won’t go unless she can have two pretty good works before Nashville,” Brion said. “We’re hoping to run her. With a gelding I think it’s really important to have a prep. With a mare like her, I don’t think it’s quite as important that she has a run before it. She keeps herself pretty fit. I’d be OK with going there without a race as long as we had the right works beforehand.”

Editor’s Note: The Mean Queen missed the Iroquois, but was aiming for a return at Saratoga.

Iranistan steps up in Gwathmey score
Four years ago he was raw, rank, undeveloped and brilliant. Iranistan blasted into steeplechasing with a runaway wins at the Carolina Cup, Middleburg and Iroquois – by a combined 27 1/2 lengths. Next, the son of Einstein won a turf maiden at Delaware Park to run his personal winning streak to four for Hudson River Farm and co-owner/trainer Jonathan Sheppard. The connections kept their feet on the gas that summer, and Iranistan placed in two Grade 1 hurdle stakes at Saratoga – bypassing the novice condition.

Then he missed more than a year and ran just twice in 2019. His 2020 included four starts, the last two handicap wins at Saratoga. Then he missed another year, joined Brion’s stable upon Sheppard’s retirement, lived with the indignity of a sign about his weight (On A Diet, Do Not Feed, something like that) outside his stall and returned last fall. Fourth in the Zeke Ferguson, he won the Noel Laing over Montpelier’s brush course in November.

And ousted Snap Decision in Saturday’s Gwathmey. Sent to the front after the entire field simply stood at the start for 16 seconds, Iranistan set the pace for Parker Hendriks, galloped, jumped, took breathers, saved ground and – finally – turned aside a stiff challenge from the favorite over the final two fences and to the wire. Fourteen pounds helped. Inside position around the quirky final stages helped, but Iranistan earned the biggest win of his career.

“I’m very proud of him,” said Brion. “I remember when he was 4 years old and it was all [jockey] Darren Nagle could do to get him to make the turns. To have him win a race like that is special. He’s had some significant injuries. He’s a cool horse.”

Like most, Brion thought Snap Decision – who won last year’s Gwathmey by 9 lengths and finished a neck behind The Mean Queen in the Grand National in October – would charge past coming to the race’s final stages. And then her horse found a little more.

“The Snap Decision of two years ago, a year ago, that wouldn’t have been anything to him,” she said of the 14-pound weight break in Iranistan’s favor. “He got there, loomed like he was going by and then Iranistan stuck his head in front again. Iranistan has changed, he used to be too keen early. Now he just keeps galloping and galloping.”

Bred in Kentucky by Crossed Sabres Farm, the 8-year-old has won seven of 14 starts over jumps with earnings of $285,000. 

Who’s Wining, Riding, Training?
Nobody is busier than jockey Parker Hendriks, who has ridden in every possible jump race on the schedule so far – his 23 mounts include all four hurdle races at Aiken, all three timber races at Cheshire, all five hurdle races at the Carolina Cup, all four hurdle races at Tryon, plus five hurdle races, a timber race and a cross-country at Middleburg Spring. And he’s got a ride in each of the five races at the Queen’s Cup Saturday.

The busy schedule has translated to success with seven wins, five seconds, a third and $168,150 in purses. He lost his apprentice allowance, and turned professional, so he’ll miss at least a race or two the rest of the way but he’s three ahead of amateur Freddie Procter and four up on last year’s champion Graham Watters.

The son of jump jockeys turned trainers Ricky Hendriks (champion jockey of 1986 and 1987) and Sanna Neilson (Maryland Hunt Cup winner, Iroquois winner, Colonial Cup winner, trainer of McDynamo, etc.), Hendriks picked up the bulk of the rides for Brion, who said the 18-year-old will be aboard The Mean Queen whenever she makes her 2022 debut as Irishman Richie Condon did not return for the spring NSA season.

Trainer Leslie Young started even faster than Hendriks with eight wins including a My Lady’s Manor timber stakes score with Tomgarrow. Last year’s timber champion started 2021 with four consecutive seconds, then won the International Gold Cup to clinch the title. He picked up where he left off in the Manor, fending off Mystic Strike and Schoodic to win the $50,000 stakes for Leipers Fork Steeplechasers. Young’s stable added six seconds and three thirds for a streaking 17-for-22 (.772) in the first three.

“I’ve always wanted to win one of these,” Young said after the Manor. “It’s weird. I grew up as a kid with my mom and dad driving to these things and what I found so amazing was watching all the oldtimers do it. I remember that. This is a bucket-list race.”

See NSA standings for more.

NOTES: The Brion horses have landed every hurdle feature on the circuit – Boulette (two handicap hurdles), Historic Heart (the Carolina Cup), Iranistan (Temple Gwathmey) – to put the trainer in second with seven wins. She shows the way in terms of earnings with $183,800 . . . Jack Fisher lone win this season came with Storm Team over timber at Middleburg, but the Hall of Famer typically skips the early meets down south and continues to unveil promising maidens from his Maryland barn including six on Saturday . . . The Maryland Horse Breeders Association offered owner and breeder bonuses on in-state jump races for the first time in 2022 and immediately showed why at Saturday’s Grand National timber meet. Maryland-breds Road To Oz and Awesome Adrian finished 1-2 in the $30,000 feature, Bogey’s Image was third in the maiden and Include It won the apprentice-rider race. In all, bonuses of nearly $19,000 will go to owners, breeders and stallion owners for the four races . . . Trainer Willie Dowling won a maiden hurdle at Middleburg with Take Profit, who ousted a deep field of 10 including runners from Fisher, Young and Brion. Owned by Kiplin Hall, the 4-year-old winner was fourth in last year’s Bald Eagle Derby turf stakes at Pimlico for trainer Jeremiah O’Dwyer.