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American Keri Brion's Cheltenham Champion Hurdle dream for Winston C


Ambitious young trainer Keri Brion’s American dream begins just before 2pm tomorrow.

Her horse Winston C, shuttled across the Atlantic for a new adventure, goes on trial for the Cheltenham Festival.

In just a few minutes, the longshot may be jumping his way into the Champion Hurdle picture.

“Cheltenham is on owner Ed Swyer’s bucket list,” said Brion, 29.

“He wanted Winston C to travel over and after a few months of planning, here we are.

“He is the right type of horse for the challenge. He’s a little firecracker.”

Admittedly few sparks fired in Winston C’s first races for UK trainer Harry Fry.

But hurdles were the making of the son of Rip Van Winkle in 2019 – and he rounded off the season with a fifth place in Grade 1 company at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.

Assisted by jockey Tom Garner and his bloodstock partner Noel Fehily, Swyer acquired Winston C and sent him to American Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard.



Baltimore Bucko and Winston C at the beach

The hardy hurdler relished the trip and galloped to top level wins at Saratoga, which earned him the Eclipse Award for steeplechaser of the year.

Sheppard linked up with Irish-born rider Ger Galligan, who took his first jockey title – and he joined forces with Brion, the trainer’s then assistant, to put the plan into action.

Winston C is one of six horses aiming to become the first US-trained winner over jumps in Ireland, out of James Doyle’s stables in Wexford.

America lost some of its major autumn fixtures last year due to Covid-19, so the team seized the opportunity.



Winston C (left) when he won at Sandown in 2019

“We decided to run Winston C at Navan and then head to the Irish Champion Hurdle at the start of February,” Brion said.

“At home, speed is the name of the game. Here it’s all about stamina.

“Winston doesn’t travel too well so we gave him time to acclimatise and he’s kicking the barn down now.

“We’ve taken him to the beach to help him cope with the softer ground and he never drops the bridle.

“He may be small but he’s as tough as nails.”

A former champion apprentice jockey, Brion learned her trade from Sheppard, US jump racing’s most successful ever trainer.



Keri with French Light

One of the Irish project’s horses, French Light, was out to give him the perfect retirement present earlier this month, until Clonmel was frozen off.

Rescheduled for January 19, the six-year-old showed plenty of promise taking the runner-up berth.

Now it’s Winston C’s turn to race for the notable milestone in the Grade B Navan Handicap Hurdle (1.57).

“We didn’t know how it was going to turn out when the horses were loaded onto the plane in November,” said Brion.

“From two runners we have had a second and third, so it has been an encouraging start.

“Winston C is a good horse. He will go to Navan followed by Leopardstown, where the ground should suit.

“If he runs well, there’s no way I’ll be talking his owner out of a trip to Cheltenham.”





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