By Jessica Martini
Owner/trainer Kerri Raven, based at Tampa Bay Downs this winter with a string of 10 horses, went to the OBS Winter Mixed Sale Tuesday with the expectation of possibly buying a horse out of the auction's racing age section. The Ontario native returned to Tampa Wednesday with three horses, including the $150,000 session topper Bear Brian (Tiznow) (hip 368).
“I just came up to see the horses of racing age, but I didn't really have a plan,” Raven said on the road back to Tampa Wednesday afternoon. “We brought the trailer, but I thought maybe one or none. I wasn't planning on being that aggressive at all. It was just the individuals that really stuck out.”
Raven's first purchase of the day was Jungle Fighter (Animal Kingdom) (hip 257). She paid $60,000 for the 5-year-old gelding who was third in the 2019 GIII Ontario Derby and was most recently seventh in the GI Northern Dancer S. last October for Stronach Stables and trainer Michael Doyle.
Following those two purchases, Raven thought she was done shopping. Until she saw Bear Brian.
“The last hip that I bought, who was the sale topper, when that horse came into the ring, he just had so much presence that I couldn't say no to him,” Raven said. “I was done buying until I saw that horse. I was done buying and I wasn't really paying attention to anything anymore and then I saw him and just had to go see what he was about. I'd never quite seen as good-looking a horse as that. He is so well put-together and he has an intelligent head. He's just beautiful. I went and talked to the people and saw he vetted out really good. And that was it.”
Bear Brian was purchased by Stonestreet Stables for $300,000 as a weanling at the 2018 Keeneland November sale. In his lone start, the bay colt won on debut at Sam Houston Race Park Jan. 9.
“I went and looked at him just because of how he looked as an individual and then found everything else about him,” Raven said. “I thought that was really big, a winner in his only start, that's not easy to do.”
Asked if her session-topping $150,000 bid would have been her last, Raven said, “I wasn't stopping. I'm kind of like that.”
Raven grew up in Ontario, but had to find her own way into the racing world.
“My mother is an artist and my dad was a musician,” Raven said. “I just kind of jumped the fence of the nearest horse farm–it was actually a dairy farm that had a horse. I was just horse crazy right from the time I was a kid. I always knew I wanted to work with horses, but I had to go and find it myself.”
Raven eventually found her way to Woodbine, where she worked as a hot walker and then galloped for trainers like Mac Benson and Paul Buttigieg. She also spent six years working for trainers in Europe.
“I think in a way, they let a horse be a horse over there,” Raven said of what she learned in her time in Europe. “Horses are a lot more relaxed. I like having a round pen and I don't like trying to build them up too much. I think they prepare them mentally better over there. I like to take my time, too. If they need the time, I give them the time they need.”
From Tampa Bay, Raven and her now 13-horse stable will move to Canterbury Park in Minnesota in the spring.
“I train for some guys in Minnesota and a couple people in Canada, but I own quite a few myself,” Raven said of the string.
Asked if she was looking to expand her stable, Raven said, “No. I gallop all of my own horses and I thought 10 was a good number.”
She added with a laugh, “And then I went to Ocala.”
As for her plans for Bear Brian, Raven said, “We will see how he starts training to determine where we will point him. He has the potential to be a lot of fun.”