Sierra Leone Q&A with Chad Brown; McPeek chimes in on Real Men Violin; Cox dishes on Ethan Energy and Nash


New Orleans, La (Feb. 16, 2024) – Following a runner-up performance in the 2021 Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct, the Chad Brown-trained Zandon invaded New Orleans for the Risen Star (G2) and crossed the line a hard charging third. After winning the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland, Zandon earned the show dough in Kentucky Derby 148. The same path is being followed. What will the future hold?

Thoughts about targeting the Risen Star with Sierra Leone, which is the same path to the Kentucky Derby you followed with Zandon?

“I like the set-up there at the Fair Grounds with the long stretch,” Brown said. “It seems to be a fair enough track. The horses seem to come out of the races doing good. For a horse who comes off the pace like Zandon did, as well as Sierra Leone, I prefer to go on the road to your neck of the woods and not have to navigate through the challenging Gulfstream surface that has a short stretch and can also favor horses in front–it works completely against a horse like this in my experience. I’m very happy to make the trip again. For Zandon, it didn’t quite work out when he didn’t break well, but it did work out well moving forward out of the race and that was the most important objective for why we came to the Risen Star. I’m hoping for a similar campaign with this horse coming out of the race.”

Thoughts about his run in the Remsen, where Dornoch came back on Sierra Leone?

“He made that big sweeping move, so maybe that took a little bit out of him,” Brown explained. “He also looked a little bit inexperienced, starting to lug in a little bit. He opened the door up for another talented horse to come back and enter the race again. The result was disappointing because it looked like he had the race won, but the effort was very encouraging. It was quite impressive that (Sierra Leone) was one of the only horses that closed ground that day. That was very encouraging for a horse making only his second start, his first start around two turns on a sealed front-end track.”

“We let him catch his breath after that, gave him some time to get over it before he shipped south,” Brown continued. “He’s been training super (at Payson Park). He does have a layoff to overcome.  It’s a tough race, there’s some nice horses in there. Particularly Steve’s two that have recency and they look like they’re good horses. Some other horses in the race look like they’re set up for good 3-year-old seasons, too. I like the draw (post 4). I guess the weather is a bit of an issue. He’s handled a wet track before. I’d rather it not be wet and have to prove it again because he has been training on dry tracks very strongly. It is what it is. We’ve already shipped and we’re committed to the race so we’re going to run.”

Reasoning behind the timing of putting blinkers on Sierra Leone?

“Exiting the race, I definitely had on my list of objectives over the winter to try to look for some way to improve his focus a bit,” Brown said. “There are two issues with the horse I’ve seen, particularly in the Remsen. He wasn’t engaged early in the race, out of the gate, where he was really far out of position. That’s one thing that works against him in his races.”

“The other area of improvement is in the stretch he wasn’t running straight and leaning in,” Brown continued. “So I rotated around some different equipment between his bit, his blinkers, which ones. I finally settled on a small blinker. I abandoned the different bit in his mouth. He might have a little bit of a funny head carriage, but we’ve never seen him have a steering issue in the mornings. In his debut he was very green in the stretch but he was very manageable for the jockey.”

“In the end I’ve seen in his training that he’s the most focused and consistent at each pole of his work in the equipment you’ll see him in on Saturday,” Brown concluded.

Naming Tyler Gaffalione to ride Sierra Leone in the Risen Star.

“We’ve been using Tyler a lot more,” Brown explained. “My goal here is to get him to the Blue Grass and to the Kentucky Derby, obviously two tracks where Tyler has been the leading rider several years in a row. I feel like with a horse like this, who will potentially see a lot of different areas of both tracks, given his off the space style, I felt with having learned a little bit racing in those races that having a jockey that really knows every inch of the racetrack over there could work in our advantage. We’ve been using (Tyler) on other horses. He’s based in south Florida so he’s had a chance to work with the horse as well. All those things went into my decision to go with him in this race and hopefully to stay with him.”

Ken McPeek, trainer of Real Men Violin (Risen Star)

“We put some tough races together last summer and fall with him and he never missed a beat. We made a decision to back off and just wait for some of these other spring preps. I sent him to Ocala for a period and let him have a little let down there and then we’ve regrouped with him here(Fair Grounds). He’s run head-to-head with Track Phantom so you’d think he fit in there someplace, but it’s a big field and a lot can happen. But look, this is a nice horse and one step of hopefully many and hopefully this race takes us to the Louisiana Derby.”

Brad Cox, trainer of Ethan Energy and Nash (both entered in Race 3 (3YO OC 100k/n1x going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt)

Ethan Energy

“Worked very very well the other morning. Obviously, a little separation between these two having run against each other in the Lecomte. I think he’s going to move forward after that last one.”


“We’re just trying to hit the reset button a little bit with Nash and get him some confidence. It’s a good allowance race–a solid, competitive race. We’re excited to get him one back in the win column.”