Monday Morning Qb’s Classic Victory Caps Four-Win Maryland Million Day For Russell

Jockey Sheldon Russell, a month into his return from a broken wrist, put an exclamation point on his comeback with four wins Saturday capped by a record-setting victory aboard Monday Morning Qb in the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic at Laurel Park in Laurel, Md.

The 1 1/8-mile Classic for 3-year-olds headlined the 35th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program of 12 races featuring eight stakes and four starter stakes on ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races,’ celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state.

Given a textbook ride by Russell, Monday Morning Qb ($15.80) hit the wire in 1:48.13 over a fast main track, the fastest Classic since the race was moved to its current distance in 2009. The Classic was run at 1 1/4 miles from 1986-92 and 1 3/16 miles from 1993-2008.

Russell, 33, captured the $50,000 Starter Handicap with trainer Dale Capuano’s Jumpstartmyheart in the opener and went on to wins in the $100,000 Distaff with Hello Beautiful, trained by his wife, Brittany, and $100,000 Turf with Pretty Good Year. Russell moved into sixth in Maryland Million history with 11 total wins.

“I’m a little bit of a pessimist. I’m thinking, ‘How many does he have in him today? Did he use up all his luck before he got to me?’ That’s a natural trainer instinct,” winning trainer Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid Jr. joked. “But, Sheldon’s a good rider. I’ve known him for years and he’s won some nice races for us, so I had complete confidence in Sheldon.”

Russell was leading the Laurel Park summer meet standings when he was injured in a gate mishap July 17 at Delaware Park. He returned Sept. 24 on opening day of the Preakness Meet at Pimlico, where he went 1-for-16 but rode Excessive in the Preakness Stakes (G1). A seven-time meet champion in Maryland and the state’s leading overall rider in 2011, Russell was 7-for-30 at Laurel’s fall meet before Saturday’s 4-for-9 performance.

“It’s just fantastic. I haven’t really been back that long. We sort of came back Preakness week and I was able to pick up a Preakness mount and sort of pick my head up a little bit,” Russell said. “Business has been great, so I can’t really complain. My agent, Marty Leonard, has done a great job.

“Going into today I had nine mounts and looking at all of them, you think they all sort of had a live sneaky outside chance,” he added. “It was good that Dale’s horse put me on a good start to the day. When you win some races early on in the day it sort of gives you a second win and you want to win another one, but four wins is great. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.”

Winner of the Heft Stakes for juveniles last December at Laurel, Monday Morning Qb became only the second 3-year-old ever to win the Classic, following Bonus Points in 2017.

Russell was able to settle Monday Morning Qb in second off an opening quarter-mile in 23.47 set by 2019 Classic runner-up Prendimi. Off the board in the James W. Murphy Oct. 3 at Pimlico, his grass debut, the Maryland-bred Imagining colt took over the top spot after a half in 46.81, gained some separation after going six furlongs in 1:10.94 and had plenty left to turn back historic Pimlico Special (G3) winner and Classic favorite Harpers First Ride.

“I thought there was a little more speed. For him to be in the catbird seat laying second was kind of a surprise to me,” Reid said. “I just told Sheldon to break him sharp and wherever he was comfortable was fine with me. The horse has no problem coming from off the pace or on the lead, whatever you want to do.

“The biggest thing you have to think about with him, and the only instruction that I gave Sheldon was, if you’re in tight turning for home to open up and get away from horses a couple lengths and try and make him switch leads. Sheldon did a great job.”

Harpers First Ride, who had a two-race stakes win streak snapped, was second, three-quarters of a length ahead of 45-1 long shot Tattooed. It was five lengths back to Tap the Mark in fourth, followed by Cordmaker, Top Line Growth and Prendimi. Top Line Growth, the 2019 Iowa Derby winner, entered the Classic with a perfect 4-0 record at Laurel.

“He’s a beautiful horse. I think he won the best-turned-out horse and I’m not surprised at all, because he’s stunning,” Russell said. “Mr. Reid said he’s sharp and just get him into a good position. Going into the first turn you could see I had a handful. He was really strong, he was eager, he was well-prepared today and that’s sort of how he ran.”

Reid said he expects Monday Morning Qb to be part of a small string he’ll have this winter at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream Park’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County.

“We’ll digest this one a little bit. I’m hoping we can find one more 3-year-old race before the end of the year but they’re going to be difficult to find,” Reid said. “I’ve taken some stalls at Palm Meadows this winter so he’ll probably end up down there with us.”

The post Monday Morning Qb’s Classic Victory Caps Four-Win Maryland Million Day For Russell appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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