If Brandon Meier wins the Kentucky Derby some day or, say, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, there is another lesser race that will command an adjacent spot in his memory.
Riding with the bug in 2008, he was on a horse making the turn for home and came off the fence just enough to let the rider behind him sneak through. He switched sticks and went to work with the left hand, but got beat a nose.
The winning rider grinned and chortled as they were galloping out, “hey, jockey, you probably would have won if you had hit your horse instead of my boot the whole way.”
The winning rider? Randy Meier, Brandon’s father.
Brandon’s rejoinder was swift and succinct. “You’ll think twice about coming up inside me the next time,” he said.
The Meier name is well-known in Chicago where Brandon broke in. Randy Meier is the all-time leading rider at Hawthorne Race Course and Sportsman’s Park and among the top 10 all-time at Arlington International Racecourse.
“He raced for 38 years and won more than 4,000 races,” Brandon said. Father and son shared the same valet at Arlington. “My box was right underneath his,” Brandon said. “He got to school me quite a bit.”
Randy retired after a serious accident 3 and ½ years ago. He broke his neck in a spill, for the second time, and suffered a head injury. Brandon stayed home to take care of him, a process that included five months of speech therapy.
“He’s doing great now. He made a full recovery,” Brandon added. “He’s using his retirement to visit racetracks. He’s already been here.”
During his one stint at Santa Anita in 2009, Brandon participated in the “Jockeys”, the reality show about horse racing on Animal Planet.
Accompanying him in the role was girlfriend Dana Henrichsen, whom he met at Arlington in 2008. Henrichsen was working in the Arlington gift shop. Meier was on a horse riding through the tunnel to the track and spotted her. He pulled off a pair of goggles and autographed them for delivery to the gift shop.
“She didn’t know who I was, but she started watching the races and eventually phoned me,” Meier added.
Dana, who now works weekends in Mr. D’s, a sports bar on the apron level at Arlington, is also a hospital administrative assistant during the week. She was in Shakopee recently to visit her jockey, who is riding at Canterbury Park for the first time. He had never seen the place before and is here after getting a sales pitch from last year’s riding champion, Tanner Riggs. “We’re good friends and he kept telling me how great this place is,” said Meier. “He kept telling me the people are great, very friendly, that I’d like the facility.”
Everything seems to be meeting his expectations.
Meier arrived looking for a fresh start. He has ridden at the Chicago tracks as well as Santa Anita Park, Kenneland , Turfway Park and Churchill Downs.
“I couldn’t seem to stay healthy,” he said. “I’d recover from one injury, ride a bit and get hurt again. I’d just build my business back and get hurt again.”
Sometimes a total makeover, an entirely fresh start, can be just the ticket. “I’m starting to make connections, getting to know some people here,” he said. “I think some doors are starting to open for me.” He wants to begin adding to his one win any time soon.
Brandon, who’ll turn 25 on July 9, has one other race that he’ll never forget no matter what fate has in store for him, no matter how many stakes he might win.
He won the first race of his career on a horse named Houseboat, who threw his head shortly before entering the gate and caught Brandon squarely in the lower face, splitting his lip and chipping or rearranging several teeth.
He was bleeding profusely as he entered the winner’s circle and getting peppered from all around about his condition, how he felt.
People began asking him what he intended to do with his winning share of the purse.
“I told them the money would help pay for my upcoming visit to the dentist,” he said.
Meier was smiling as he talked, revealing a mouthful of perfectly formed incisors, top and bottom.
Smiling and anticipating a fresh start.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.