History Within Reach for Laurel Trainer Brittany Russell

History Within Reach for Laurel Trainer Brittany Russell

In Position to Become First Female to Lead Maryland in Wins
Ness, Toledo Lead Fall Meet Standings, Final Weekend Opens Friday

LAUREL, MD – For the second straight year, trainer Brittany Russell finds herself at the end of a racing season chasing history.

With three racing days left in Laurel Park’s fall meet, starting Friday, the 34-year-old Russell leads Jamie Ness, 115-113, for the most winners at Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course in 2023. Russell and Ness tied for second-most wins behind five-time defending champion Claudio Gonzalez in 2022, with 73.

No female trainer has ever led Maryland’s annual standings. Last year Russell became just the fourth woman to win a training title in Maryland at Laurel’s spring meet and then won Pimlico’s Preakness and Laurel’s fall stands to become the first female to earn multiple crowns.

“That would be something. I didn’t realize were on the verge of a milestone. It would mean a lot,” Russell said. “What can you say, really? You wake up and you try and do a job and you try and do the best job that you can for the horses and your clients. Being in a position like that, it’s pretty special.

“The woman thing, honestly, I don’t think about that, ever, until somebody points it out to me. I just show up and I try and do my best and win as many races as anybody regardless of male or female,” she added. “Most of my best friends are male trainers. That’s just who I interact with. Do I feel they look at me differently because I’m a woman? No, I feel like we just show up and do our job.”

Russell has horses entered in three races Friday and Saturday and two on Sunday’s New Year’s Eve closing day program at Laurel. Ness has horses in one race Friday, five races Saturday and six races Sunday.

Already, Russell has far surpassed personal highs across the board in starters (674), wins (173) and purse earnings ($7,745,992). She ranks 11th nationally in wins and 16th in purses, and earned the first Grade 1 of her career with Doppelganger in the Carter Handicap in April at Aqueduct.

“You can say, ‘Well, it’s Brittany, she’s great on the Maryland circuit’ and all that stuff, that she’s just a Maryland trainer. You can put her up against any of these top trainers at tracks that have much larger purses and rank them equally,” said Stuart Grant, founder of prominent owner The Elkstone Group. “If you look at the people that are behind her, it’s a really impressive list. She’s doing what she needs to do and she’s paying her dues.

“She’s good and she cares. She’s got a good team and she lives and breathes this stuff,” he added. “She’s super. I love having horses with her. I have more horses with her than I have with anyone else.”

Russell defended her Preakness Meet title this spring, and trails Ness, 36-34, in Laurel’s fall meet standings. She went out on her own in 2018 after working for such trainers as Brad Cox, Jimmy Jerkens, Ron Moquett and late Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard and has 418 wins and more than $17.5 million in purse earnings to her credit.

“We have multiple strings, but it’s fun to look down the shedrow each place we go and be like, ‘good horse, good horse, good horse,’” Russell said. “The quality has just improved each year and they’re sending us better horses each year. I’m training for good clients and I still have support from some of the originals. It’s something to be really proud of.”

Russell is quick to spread the credit for her success around, starting with her husband, champion jockey Sheldon Russell, with whom she shares daughter, Edy, and son, Rye. Luis Barajas is her right hand at Laurel, with Emma Wolfe in charge at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. and Sam Hopkins running the show at Gulfstream Park this winter.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere without Sheldon. He’s a constant source of inspiration and motivation on and off the track, and he’s been a huge part of our success,” Russell said. “Luis has been with me since I’ve been with Ron Moquett. He’s been with me from the beginning, from when we had a barnful of what we thought were good horses. We were fired from all those horses and left with three in the shedrow. There was a time where I didn’t know if I was going to have a career. We were just trying to break through. Luis has stood by my side and been with me the whole time. Luis is such a good assistant.

“Emma and I have such a good thing going. She’s been a key in helping me get the 2-year-olds in the spring when they come in. We kind of send them up to her and she starts sorting them out. She has plenty of good horses. She has Post Time in her care. Post Time stays with Emma at Fair Hill because honestly she’s such a good rider and he’s such a difficult horse, and they have a good thing going. You can see it’s working,” she added. “Sam started with us earlier this year. I have a pretty good group of horses down there. A few of them have yet to run. You can’t do it without your team, and they’ve all built kind of their own crews, too. So it’s them and it’s everybody under them. It’s awesome. Of course, I’m proud. It’s been a year.”

Laurel kicks off the final weekend of the calendar year with a live nine-race program Friday, starting at 12:25 p.m. Russell will send out Kuebler Racing and Ten Strike Racing’s Swill in featured Race 8, a third-level optional claiming allowance for 3-year-olds and up sprinting 5 ½ furlongs.

Swill won the six-furlong Challendon Sept. 10 at Pimlico and most recently ran fourth in an Oct. 14 optional claimer at Aqueduct going the same distance. The 5-year-old gelding will break from Post 2 in a field of nine that includes fellow stakes winners Monday Morning Qb, Karan’s Notion, Johnyz From Albany, Threes Over Deuces and Golden Candy along with Brother Conway, chasing a fourth straight victory.

Race 7 is an open six-furlong allowance for 3-year-olds and up that drew an overflow field of 13 including last out winners Mr. Antonelli, Class Actor, Rominski and Elle’sbigseacret, the lone also-eligible. Assume Nothing races first off the claim for Daryl Abramowitz and trainer Horacio DePaz, the same connections that won the Dec. 23 Dave’s Friend with 9-year-old Greeley and Ben.

Eight 2-year-old fillies will line up for Race 3, a maiden special weight sprinting six furlongs. Six horses are entered to make their career debut including a pair from trainer Brittany Russell – Maddie Ten, a bay daughter of champion sprinter Mitole, and Heart, a homebred Bolt d’Oro filly. Grade 1 winners Arrogate and Vino Rosso are respectively represented by Gate Song and La Macchina Rossa, while Blue Trillion is set to make her fourth start and first since running third in a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight Dec. 8 at Laurel for trainer Tim Keefe.

There will be a carryover of $2,717.21 in the $1 Jackpot Super High Five (Race 6).

Laurel’s Saturday program is highlighted by the final stakes of 2023, the $100,000 Heft for 2-year-olds featuring stakes winners Sweet Soddy J and Catahoula Moon and $100,000 Gin Talking for 2-year-old fillies, led by the Russell-trained undefeated stakes winner Cap Classique.

Sunday’s closing day program will feature mandatory payouts in the Jackpot Super High Five, 20-cent Rainbow 6 (Races 4-9) and 50-cent Late Pick 5 (Races 5-9) wagers.

Jaime Rodriguez will finish as Maryland’s leading rider, currently at 164, trailed by Jeiron Barbosa (136), Jevian Toledo (130) and Angel Cruz (103). Toledo leads Rodriguez, 49-48, in the fall meet standings.