Hello Hot Rod at Home in $100,000 Harrison Johnson

G3 Winner Eastern Bay Returns in $75,000 Not For Love
Stablemates Award Wanted, Street Lute Top $75,000 Conniver

LAUREL, MD – Brittany Russell didn’t have to think twice when owner George Sharp reached out a couple months back to ask if the Maryland’s two-time defending trainer of the year had room for one more horse.

It was really cool, actually. George called me and said, ‘Hey I’m thinking of sending you a horse,’ and I said, ‘Please tell me it’s Hot Rod.’ He started laughing and said, ‘Yeah,’” Russell said. “It’s mostly because he’s Maryland-bred and George has a lot of horses. Hot Rod should be here. He should be in Maryland, so that’s primarily why he sent him back.”

Now 5, Hello Hot Rod is entered to make his return to stakes company Saturday in the 35th running of the $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park, one of five stakes worth $450,000 in purses headlined by the $100,000 Private Terms for 3-year-olds and $100,000 Beyond The Wire for 3-year-old fillies.

Also on the 10-race program are a pair of $75,000 stakes for Maryland-bred/sired horses, the six-furlong Not For Love for 4-year-olds and up and seven-furlong Conniver for fillies and mares 4 and older.

First race post time is 12:25 p.m.

Ellen Charles’ Hillwood Stable, Hello Hot Rod’s breeder, won the Johnson for 4-year-olds and up going one mile with Cordmaker in 2019 and 2021. By Mosler out of the Tiznow mare Hello Now, Hello Hot Rod is a half-brother to retired multiple stakes winner Hello Beautiful, who Russell also trained.

Purchased for $10,000 as a yearling, Hello Hot Rod raced four times for co-owners Russell and Dark Horse Racing, the first three at Laurel, where he won back-to-back starts under Russell’s husband, champion jockey Sheldon Russell, in the fall of 2020 before being sent to New York to open his 3-year-old season in the January 2021 Jimmy Winkfield at Aqueduct.

Hello Hot Rod earned his lone stakes victory in the Winkfield and nine days later fetched $335,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky mixed sale and was moved to Midwest-based trainer Shawn Davis. Though he came back to be fourth in the Federico Tesio at historic Pimlico Race Course, Hello Hot Rod raced in Ohio, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas before rejoining Russell in January.

After we sold him I cried for like 24 hours and Sheldon said, ‘Why did you sell that horse?’ We did so well in the sale, but I couldn’t get over it. We did so well with him and he was just so nice to have around,” Russell said. “He’s just a really cool horse. Having him back in the barn, he’s right in the first row of stalls and when you walk in he’s one of the first horses you see. He knows he’s home.”

Hello Hot Rod won two of 12 starts after being sold, successive allowance triumphs last fall at Remington Park, and was off the board in a pair of stakes before returning to Laurel to be third in a one-mile allowance Feb. 12, contested over a muddy and sealed main track. He drew Post 3 in a field of eight for the Johnson and will be ridden by Jorge Vargas Jr.

“He really grew up. He’s always been a real classy, laid-back type and he’s still like that. He’s a little more racy now, though,” Russell said. “When the guys gallop him in the morning he takes a hold. He’s a lot of horse to sit on. He might have been a little more laid back early on when we had him as a 2-year-old, but he’s also figured the game out. He’s seen a lot of places and traveled a lot of miles.”

Sterling Road Stables and LBR Racing Stable’s American d’Oro defeated Hello Hot Rod in the Feb. 12 allowance and cuts back in his first stakes attempt since finishing sixth in Laurel’s Richard W. Small and Robert T. Manfuso to end 2022. Thomas Coulter’s Nimitz Class won the Manfuso and 1 1/16-mile John B. Campbell Feb. 18 at Laurel and returns looking for a third straight stakes victory.

Morris Kernan Jr., Yo Berbs and Jagger Inc.’s Ournationonparade, winner of the 2022 Maryland Million Classic first off the claim for trainer and co-owner Jamie Ness, will attempt to turn the tables in the Johnson. The 6-year-old gelding ran second in the Campbell and Small and third in the Manfuso and one-mile Jennings Jan. 21.

“He’s run second a couple times, he’ll like the [distance and] he’s doing fine. He’s Maryland-bred so I like to try to run him there,” said Parx-based Ness, who leads Russell in wins, 27-22, at Laurel’s winter meet. “He fires every time and when he gets beat he just gets beat by a better horse that day. I expect the same kind of effort from him again.”

Built Wright Stables’ Double Crown is looking for his first win since a 42-1 upset of he one-mile Kelso (G2) last October at Aqueduct. In his two most recent races, he was third in a one-mile allowance Jan. 30 at Parx and sixth in the Campbell.

“He looked like he was in good position on the backstretch coming up and then nothing. He just flattened out,” owner-trainer Norman ‘Lynn’ Cash said. “He’s not running the best that he’s run. We’ll see. I think he’s a horse that, just like with the Kelso, he kind of came out of the blue and I think that’s him. You keep putting him there and one of these days the race will come back to him and he’ll be there.”

Treasure Trove, also owned and trained by Cash, American Patrol and Rough Sea complete the field.

The Harrison E. Johnson honors the Bowie-based trainer who died at age 45 in the crash of a plane he was piloting from Saratoga to Virginia. A native of Adelphi, Md., his best horse was 1973 Hopeful (G1) winner Gusty O’Shay, named that year’s Maryland-bred 2-year-old champion.

G3 Winner Eastern Bay Returns in $75,000 Not For Love

Built Wright Stables’ millionaire Eastern Bay, emotional winner of the General George (G3) Feb. 18, returns to Laurel Park chasing his 20th career victory in Saturday’s $75,000 Not For Love, a six-furlong sprint restricted to older Maryland-bred/sired horses.

The 9-year-old Eastern Bay had run second in each of his first three graded-stakes attempts – the 2020 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) at Laurel and 2022 Vosburgh (G2) and Bold Ruler (G3) at Aqueduct – before breaking through in the General George, his first race in 3 ½ months. The win came on a day honoring late jockey Avery Whisman, who rode Eastern Bay to three wins in 2019-20.

Eastern Bay came back to be fourth by two lengths, two necks out of second, in the six-furlong Tom Fool (G3) March 4 at Aqueduct. Overall, he has won 19 of 54 starts, including 15 of 41 at Laurel. He finished off the board in the 2018 and 2019 Not For Love for prior connections.

“He was two lengths out of it last time and coming. We felt like he still ran very big,” owner-trainer Norman ‘Lynn’ Cash said. “We’re so proud of him. The race before, with the whole emotional weekend, I’ve never seen him up so close that early. He just had so much energy. He’s like, ‘All right I’m racing again, here we go!’ He was just running like crazy.

“He’s just a great horse,” he added. “He’s probably running the best of his career right now, which is pretty amazing considering where he’s been and the fact that he’s 9 years old.”

William Humphrey, who earned his first graded victory in the seven-furlong General George, returns to ride from Post 5 in a field of 10.

Cash also entered Going to the Lead, exiting a three-quarter-length optional claiming allowance triumph going 5 ½ furlongs March 4 at Laurel. In his last try in restricted company, the 7-year-old gelding was third in the Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial in November.

Bender winner Alwaysinahurry, fourth in a one-mile allowance Feb. 12, returns in the Not For Love and is joined by fellow stakes winners Kenny Had a Notion and Karan’s Notion and stakes-placed Coastal Mission, Backnthewoods and Breezy Gust.

C J I Phoenix Group and No Guts No Glory Farm’s Al Loves Josie, third in the Star de Naskra and City of Laurel in 2022, chases his third straight victory and first in a stakes in the Not For Love. The 4-year-old gelding, beaten by stablemate Alottahope in the Star de Naskra and Robert Hilton Memorial, has won back-to-back allowance sprints at Laurel, each by 3 ½ lengths.

“He’s a colt that has jumped up and done very well. He’s really come around the last two or three races,” trainer and co-owner Jerry Robb said. “He was always chasing the other horse I had and now he’s replaced him. He’s missed a little bit of training between races because we’ve had a lot of sick horses in and out of Laurel. I didn’t get to breeze him like I would but he seems to be doing fine now.”

A son of Mr. Prospector, the late Not For Love was named Maryland’s champion stallion a record 13 times and was the first stallion in Maryland history to surpass $6 million in progeny earnings in a single year (2008). As a broodmare sire, he is represented by two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome. He died at age 26 in 2016.

Stablemates Award Wanted, Street Lute Top $75,000 Conniver

While his multiple Maryland-bred champion and last year’s winner Fille d’Esprit is on a well-earned vacation, trainer Jerry Robb will send out the pair of Award Wanted and Street Lute seeking a second straight victory in the $75,000 Conniver for Maryland-bred/sired fillies and mares 4 and up.

Robb captured the Conniver back-to-back with Anna’s Bandit in 2018 and 2019. Claimed for $10,000 in August 2020, Fille d’Esprit won the Conniver during a 2022 season where she went five-for-13 in 2022, all her wins coming in stakes, and was third in the Barbara Fritchie (G3) to be named Maryland-bred champion sprinter, older female and Horse of the Year.

“We’re very proud of what she’s done,” Robb said. “She’s a very nice filly. They’re few and far between to have a claim like that.”

Robb claimed No Guts No Glory Farm and Erica Upton’s Award Wanted for $16,000 out of a Feb. 21, 2021 win at Laurel and the 6-year-old mare has hit the board in 18 of 24 subsequent starts, seven of them wins, including the Jan. 21 Geisha. Last out, she ran second to Hybrid Eclipse in the Feb. 18 Nellie Morse.

“I had her at Delaware all last year running and she did pretty good, but when she got back to Laurel it was like a 10-point difference in her numbers. She just jumped forward tremendously. Her last three races have been off the chart,” Robb said. “I think that’s what she wanted.”

Lucky 7 Stables’ Street Lute, 5, is an eight-time stakes winner, five of those coming at Laurel, the most recent in the 2021 Wide Country. She made only four starts in 2022 and was fifth in a 5 ½-furlong optional claiming allowance Feb. 4 at Laurel, her first race in seven months.

“I think she got quite a bit out of that race, but that was six weeks ago. I’ve breezed her in between. She needs to run more but it’s tough to find races for her,” Robb said. “She was fine, she’s just always been tough to get fit. I thought she was fit the last time but obviously she wasn’t. We’ll see if this time she can improve off that.”

Mens Grille Racing’s Response Time won back-to-back 5 ½-furlong sprints 20 days apart last month at Laurel for trainer Hamilton Smith, who won the 2003 Conniver with Gazillion. The 5-year-old mare has made one prior stakes start, running fourth in the 2021 Miss Disco.

Also entered are multiple stakes-placed Quiet Imagination, exiting a sixth in the Feb. 18 Fritchie; My Flicker; eight-time winner Mavilus; Combat Queen, who had a three-race win streak snapped last out in a six-furlong optional claimer Feb. 20 at Laurel; and Summer Odds.

Named the top handicap mare of 1948 following a season that included wins in the Beldame, Comely, Vagrancy and Brooklyn handicaps, the latter over Hall of Famers Gallorette and Stymie, Conniver was bred in Maryland by Alfred G. Vanderbilt. She retired in 1949 after 15 wins from 56 starts.

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