Trainer Brittany Russell’s Progression Takes Her To Saratoga

Though only in her fourth full season of training, Brittany Russell appreciates the history behind her. Based year-round in Maryland, she currently ranks sixth in the Preakness Meet standings with 10 wins at Pimlico Race Course, the second-oldest Thoroughbred racetrack in the country.

The oldest, by seven years, is Saratoga, which held its first meet in 1863 and where the 31-year-old Russell – the winningest female trainer in Maryland in 2020 – will have a string for the first time this summer.

It is another step in the rapid upward progression for Russell, who established career highs with 46 wins and more than $1.6 million in purse earnings last year. Already in 2021 she has 30 wins and a bankroll of nearly $1.3 million, with 5 ½ months of racing left.

Her success led Russell, married to champion Maryland jockey Sheldon Russell, to establish strings during Gulfstream Park’s prestigious winter Championship Meet in 2020-2021 as well as Belmont Park this spring. Both were overseen by assistant Amanda Olds, who will also handle day-to-day duties at Saratoga.

“It’s really exciting. I hope I can go up and enjoy it for a little bit,” Russell, who is expecting the couple’s second child in November, said. “You just hope that it works out. We were going to run up there anyway so it seemed like the right move to have a small string there. That way, they can ship up and get acquainted with the place.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking because you want it to work out,” she added. “You don’t want to go somewhere just to be there. You want to go to win races.”

Russell ran six horses last summer at Saratoga with two wins – King’s Honor ($23) in an Aug. 6 claimer going one mile on the grass, and So Gracious ($73.50) in a 5 ½-furlong turf allowance Sept. 6. Among her other starters were Wondrwherecraigis, fourth in the Amsterdam (G2), and multiple stakes winner Hello Beautiful, sixth in the Prioress (G2).

King’s Honor gave Russell her 100th career victory June 19 at Pimlico.

“King’s Honor and So Gracious both won there. It was huge, absolutely huge. Especially because, it’s not like they were favorites,” Russell said. “We’ve won shipping in and hopefully we can win a few stabled there.”

Russell said she plans to keep around 10 horses at Saratoga, which will take up residence under the same barn roof as Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. Among them is stakes-placed Yodel E. A. Who, fourth in a July 11 optional claiming allowance at Belmont.

“We have a few up there. I sent a couple up to Amanda actually like two days ago. Hopefully we have a couple decent horses to run in the right spots,” Russell said. “I don’t think any of the ones that I’ve sent up have started here yet. I have a couple maidens. Yodel will run back there. We’re sort of at a crossroads with a couple of them, trying to decide whether to go up there or run here. A couple of them are undecided and are still here in Maryland.”

On July 3 at Delaware Park, Russell won the Alapocas Run Stakes for six-furlong sprinters with 6-year-old Whereshetoldmetogo and 1 1/16-mile Christiana Stakes on turf with sophomore filly Out of Sorts.

It was the first career stakes win for twice previously placed Out of Sorts and fourth in five starts for Whereshetoldmetogo, the previous three coming in the 2020 Frank Y. Whiteley and Dave’s Friend and 2021 Not For Love at Laurel Park.

“That was awesome. We love Whereshetoldmetogo. When he’s right, he’s awesome. He’s so much fun to have in the barn,” Russell said. “But for Out of Sorts to step up and win a stake, that was the cherry on top. The thing with Out of Sorts being a 3-year-old, you kind of want to find out now. Do you give her a bigger test and if she doesn’t respond, no problem, you just kind of keep her local? We’re still trying to decide.

“She came out of the race really well. Do you take her to Saratoga? We’re kind of on the fence but it seems like, why not? They paid $1,000 for her. She’s a stakes winner. We might as well find out if we can really have a lot of fun now,” she added. “And you don’t know until you try, really. She’s answered every test so far. [Once] we put her on the turf, it’s like, [she’s a] racehorse. And she’s done really nothing wrong on the dirt. She’s really cool.”

Multiple stakes winner Hello Beautiful, second to undefeated Chub Wagon in the June 13 Shine Again, is being pointed to the $100,000 Alma North for fillies and mares 3 and up sprinting 6 ½ furlongs July 31, also at Pimlico. The Alma North is part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series.

Hello Beautiful set a spirited pace in the six-furlong Shine Again and dug in when confronted by Chub Wagon in deep stretch, coming up a neck short in her first race in four months. She has been entered twice since – as main track only in Pimlico’s July 4 Jameela, which stayed on the grass, and Delaware’s July 10 Dashing Beauty, won in a romp by Chub Wagon.

“She’s going to run here at the end of the month. That was the ultimate goal all along,” Russell said. “It’s not that we’re afraid to run against [Chub Wagon] again; we’re not trying to duck her. Hello Beautiful ran a big number off the shelf. A big race. So to run her back in four weeks up there … that’s a tough track, I’ve noticed, for speed horses so it was going to make us feel a little bit better just to give her a little more time out of that effort. The Pimlico race? If Chub Wagon comes, great. But I know that we’re going to have a good filly on the 31st.”

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