High-caliber steeplechase action highlights Belmont Opening Day with G1 Lonesome Glory
by Brian Bohl
Steeplechase action will take center stage on Opening Day of the Belmont Park fall meet Thursday when Buttonwood Farm’s The Mean Queen will look to best males for a second consecutive Grade 1 contest in the $150,000 Lonesome Glory for 4-year-olds and up competing at 2 1/2 miles.
The 12th running of the Lonesome Glory, slated as Race 2 on the nine-race card, will see a seven-horse field compete over National fences, including the Keri Brion-trained The Mean Queen, who captured a prestigious steeplechase stakes during the Saratoga summer meet with a 4 3/4-length victory in the Grade 1, $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard on August 18.
The Mean Queen has already provided Brion with a slew of memorable moments this year, including a victory in April at Ireland’s Wexford Racecourse that made her conditioner the first U.S.-based trainer to win an Irish hurdle race. In just her third start overall and first over jumps, the 5-year-old daughter of Doyen was victorious and parlayed that momentum by racking up wins in her first two starts in North America.
Making her Saratoga debut, The Mean Queen led in the stretch in the Jonathan Kiser Novice on July 28 before she ducked in and unseated rider Thomas Garner. But with Garner back aboard in the Jonathan Sheppard – formerly the New York Turf Writers Cup that was renamed for the Hall of Famer in 2021 – The Mean Queen tracked in third for most of the trip before rallying past pace-setting Baltimore Bucko [also trained by Brion] and cruising to a score.
“It’s crazy to say, but she actually gets better after every race,” Brion said. “She’s doing the best now since I’ve had her. I’m really looking forward to it. This will probably be her toughest test. To be honest, I don’t know how good she is. Everyone she works with in the morning, she just toys with. She’s toyed with every field she’s been against so far, but this is how we find out.”
Brion, who was an assistant to Sheppard before going out on her on upon his retirement, trained the trifecta in the Jonathan Sheppard, with Baltimore Bucko holding off French Light for second. She will now be looking to notch a victory in the lone Grade 1 steeplechase contested at Belmont this meet as she looks to see if The Mean Queen can sustain her form.
“She’s really special,” Brion said. “I know it’s early in my training career, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever train a horse like her again. I worked for Jonathan for 11 years and no one he trained in that time compared to her. I don’t know exactly how good she is, but I’m just really fortunate to get the opportunity to train her. She’s different.”
Richard Condon will pick up the mount from post 2 with The Mean Queen carrying 157 pounds.
Brion will also send out Hudson River Farms’ Galway Kid, who will be making his third straight Grade 1 appearance after being eased in the Iroquois on June 26 at Prairie Meadows and finishing fifth last out in the A.P. Smithwick Memorial going 2 1/16 miles on July 22 at Saratoga.
After recovering from an illness following that race, Brion said Galway Kid will look to surprise as he enters on full rest.
“He was actually very sick coming out of his race in the A.P. Smithwick. He had a bad infection deep down in his lungs and that’s why he missed the Jonathan Sheppard,” Brion said. “I was really happy with him going into the Smithwick. I do expect him to run a really good race. But he hasn’t run in a little while and we’re using this more as a race for him and then go on to Far Hills, which is more suitable to his running type and style."
Parker Hendricks will ride from post 3 with Galway Kid carrying 146 pounds.
“I could see him getting a piece of it and he’s in at a nice, light weight,” Brion said. “He’ll love the distance; the two and a half. I’m happy with him and I think he’ll run a really good race.”
Bruton Street’s Snap Decision enters off a nine-race win streak dating to 2019 and will be seeking his second consecutive Grade 1 victory after a 3 1/2-length score in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois in June at Percy Warner for Hall of Fame trainer Jack Fisher. That marked the second consecutive graded stakes win for the 7-year-old Hard Spun gelding, who started his campaign with a win in the Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey Handicap in May at Glenwood Park.
Snap Decision, the 164-pound highweight, is 9-2-0 in 11 career starts over jumps. Previously trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey at the start of his career for flat racing, Snap Decision finished second in his first two races over hurdles before crafting his winning streak.
Graham Watters will be aboard Snap Decision from post 6.
“The Mean Queen is obviously going in against Snap Decision, who is a great horse, and it’s the first time she’s really been tested like that,” Brion said.
Silverton Hill’s Bodes Well had his picture taken for the Jonathan Kiser at the Spa, powering to the wire a 4 1/2-length winner after looking like she was on her way to a strong second-place showing before The Mean Queen’s late misstep. The 6-year-old Rock of Gibraltar gelding has finished on the board in his last three starts, posting consecutive third-place finishes in handicaps before winning his first North American stakes last out for trainer Leslie Young.
Garner will be in the irons from post 4. Bodes Well will carry 144 pounds.
Young will also saddle Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean [carrying 148 pounds], who will be looking for his first win since the 2019 Jonathan Kiser. Redicean, fourth in the A.P. Smithwick and seventh in this Jonathan Sheppard, will see a slew of familiar faces in the Lonesome Glory, drawing post 5 with Gerard Galligan aboard.
Irvin Naylor’s Amschel has earned black type in both starts to commence his 7-year-old campaign, running third in the Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey before running second in the Grade 1 Iroquois in for trainer Cyril Murphy. Barry Foley will be aboard Amschel [carrying 150 pounds] from post 1.
M.K. Johnston, Jr.’s Brianbakescookies was a stalwart on the NYRA flat circuit from 2015-18, winning three races in 24 starts before contesting hurdles starting in 2019 for Fisher. The now 8-year-old Giant’s Causeway gelding has revived his career over jumps, posting a 3-3-1 mark in 12 starts, including a win in the Queen’s Cup MPC in April at Charlotte.
Brianbakescookies [carrying 144 pounds] will be making his first steeplechase appearance at Belmont and first start overall at the historic track since a seventh-place finish in June 2018 in his penultimate flat start. Skylar McKenna will have the call from the outermost post.
Thursday at Belmont will also feature the $75,000 William Entenmann Memorial steeplechase and 4-year-olds and up going 2 1/4 miles in the opening race at 2:05 p.m. Eastern.
Brion will send out Baltimore Bucko [post 3, Condon] and French Light [post 6, Hendricks], the respective second-and-third-place finishers in the Jonathan Sheppard, along with A Silent Player [post 4, Ross Geraghty]. The trio will compete against a field that includes the Young-trained Booby Trap [post 1, Galligan], Perfect Tapatino [post 2, Barry Foley] and Bassmatchi [post 5, Garner], as well as the Irvin Naylor-conditioned A Silent Player [post 4, Ross Geraghty] and Rtiz A.P., trained by Neil Morris [post 7, Watters].
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