As the clock struck 11:30 a.m., trainer Keri Brion knew she only had 90 minutes until her colt Chetzeron would run in the day’s first race at Saratoga.
“He can be a little nervous, but not bad,” Brion said as she fitted the bridle over the five-year-old gelding.
What You Need To Know
- Keri Brion began her career as a head trainer in 2021 and is now saddling horses at Saratoga Race Course
- For the previous 11 years, Brion worked for Hall of Fame Trainer Jonathan Sheppard, American steeplechase racing’s all-time leader in wins and earnings
- At the start of the Saratoga meet, Brion won the A.P. Smithwick, her first career victory in a Grade 1 stakes race
Bred in France and purchased in Ireland, Chetzeron was set to make his fourth career start in a steeplechase race.
“In his first start this year, he won by 30-some lengths,” Brion said. “He seems to be a good horse, but we’ll have to see.”
One stall to the right, Brion’s assistant Tatiana was getting her other colt, Keri’s Find, ready for the same race.
“I don’t really get that nervous,” Brion said as the minutes ticked off the clock. “All the hard work is done now, so we’ll see what happens.”
Born in Pennsylvania, Brion has worked with horses since she was 10 and began galloping them three years later.
“They’re incredible animals; they’re so smart and so athletic,” she said.
After a few more minutes, Brion and her team get done what they needed to and lead their horses out of the barn, along with the other five horses entered in the race. As they made their way past the fans in The Spa’s crowded backyard, both runners seemed to be taking everything in stride.
“You kind of sometimes know how your day is going to go here, now,” Brion said. “The ones that just melt down, it is never going to end well normally, but it’s nice to see my two are handling it like professionals.”
This is a walk Brion has made many times before, but this is her first summer doing it as a lead trainer.
“I didn’t think it would be any different. I thought I was so used to it, but yes, it is different,” she said. “In a good way.”
For the previous 11 years, Brion worked as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, American steeplechase racing’s all-time leader in wins and earnings.
“It’s great that I've had that experience,” Brion said. “The experience I had working for him is second to none. I’m super, super lucky.”
Sheppard famously won at least one race at Saratoga an unmatched 47 years in a row. He retired at the start of 2021.
“You wouldn’t know all he had done in his career, really, if you didn’t know him,” Brion said. “He was humble and so poised. He was a legend, 100%.”
Brion seems to be picking up where her old boss left off. Earlier this summer, she captured Saratoga’s prestigious A.P. Smithwick, her first win in a Grade 1 stakes.
“I was very emotional after, more because of how proud I was of the horse, and I guess myself too, for that and for the owners sticking with me,” said Brion, who is training for a number of Sheppard’s former clients.
With the race finally underway, Keri watched and cheered her horses on from behind Saratoga’s winner’s circle. Chetzeron ran fifth, but Keri’s Find finished an impressive second.
“It’s really rewarding to see him blossom as a horse,” Brion said. “He’s only four; he’s only going to get better, I’d say.”
Less than a year into her career as a head trainer, Brion is already leaving her mark on one of racing’s biggest stages.
“This is what I’ve always dreamed of, having runners in Saratoga,” she said. “The fact I’ve been able to come up here every week and have a runner is amazing; the fact I’ve had a winner is even better, and in a Grade 1 is unreal.”