The Mean Queen wins Eclipse Award
BY TOD MARKS
It’s official: The Mean Queen wins Eclipse Award
The Irish-bred mare, who began the 2021 season unraced over hurdles, ended the year with three straight Grade 1 triumphs, and on Thursday night took home the award as champion steeplechaser at the 51st Eclipse Award ceremonies at Santa Anita Park in California.
The now-six-year-old daughter of Doyen, owned by Rod and Alice Moorhead’s Buttonwood Farm in Pennsylvania and trained by Keri Brion, was the overwhelming choice for year-end honors, finishing ahead of finalists Baltimore Bucko, her Buttonwood Stablemate, and Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision, who during the season tied Thrice Worthy’s mark for consecutive hurdle wins with nine.
The Moorheads, Brion, and her team were on hand to accept the award. Moorhead’s reaction: “Wow.” Brion recalled standing on stage in 2019, as the assistant to her longtime mentor, Jonathan Sheppard, when Winston C took home the award, and was beyond thrilled to return to the podium in her first year on her own as the conditioner of steeplechasing’s brightest star.
“I’m just lucky to train her,” Brion said in an interview. “She (The Mean Queen) has taken my career to a level so early I would have never dreamed of.”
Added Moorhead: “Owning a mare like her is absolutely wonderful. She’s been fabulous to us and even better for the sport. We’re honored to campaign her.”
The Mean Queen began the season early in the spring in her home country and gave Brion the distinction of becoming the first U.S.-based conditioner to win a hurdle race in Ireland.
Afterwards, Brion brought The Mean Queen stateside, where she swiftly established herself as a horse to watch with an eight-length blowout win against males in an allowance hurdle at the Virginia Gold Cup Races at Great Meadow under Tom Garner.
A month later, “The Queen” became a stakes winner, taking the Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares at the Iroquois Races. From there, it was off to historic Saratoga Race Course, and a bizarre finish – tossing Garner with a big lead nearing the wire – in the Jonathan Kiser novice stakes, the only blemish on her National Steeplechase Association record. Three weeks later The Mean Queen got her revenge, as she romped under Garner against the boys by 4 3/4 lengths in the newly named Grade 1 Jonathan Sheppard. That set up a pair of showdowns with Snap Decision, whom she defeated under new rider Richie Condon, in the Lonesome Glory (G1) at Belmont and the Grand National (G1) at Far Hills.
The Mean Queen’s heroics made her the first jumper to be named the season’s novice champion, top female, and Lonesome Glory award winner as the sport’s leading earner. Overall, she ended the NSA season with five wins in six starts and earnings of $303,000. Her main target for the spring 2022 season is the G1 Iroquois in May.
Thursday’s Eclipse Awards were the first held in California in 12 years. The awards are voted on by NTRA, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB).