Riding high off an exceptional year in 2022, where she was the leading trainer at Laurel Park’s fall and spring meet and tied for the lead at the Preakness Meet at Pimlico, Brittany Russell is poised for another strong showing this year.
The Laurel-based conditioner got the season off to a good start two weeks ago when Prince of Jericho and L Street Lady, both by Munnings, swept the two $100,000 stakes races for 3-year-olds on Jan. 21 at Laurel.
“It was really exciting to have two stakes winners in one day,” Russell said. “They’re both 3-year-olds and it’s early in the year, so it’s great that they are coming along and making the progress you like to see.”
Michael Dubb and Morris Bailey’s Prince of Jericho arrived at Russell’s barn last spring. While the horsewoman initially thought the colt showed turf potential, his debut race in October was switched to the main track and Prince of Jericho finished a promising third. He came back two weeks later to break his maiden by nearly 12 lengths on the dirt under Russell’s husband, leading Maryland jockey Sheldon Russell.
Three weeks before his recent stakes win in the Spectacular Bid S., Prince of Jericho finished second to Coffeewithchris (Ride On Curlin) in his stakes debut in December. He turned the tables on that same rival in the Spectacular Bid, sweeping four wide and pulling away down the lane to win by four.
“We really took our time with him and Sheldon always liked him,” Russell said. “When he ran second in the stake, Sheldon came back and mentioned that he probably should have let him run around the turn a bit more. That gave us the confidence to run him back in three weeks. He made a nice move around the turn and he really accelerated. He ran down a horse that beat him last time and he looked good doing it.”
L Street Lady, a $125,000 yearling purchase by Liz Crow for Madaket Stables, is another trainee that has blossomed under Russell’s patient hand.
“She’s a big-bodied filly and there’s a lot to her,” Russell said. “She has gone through many growth spurts since we’ve had her. We always thought a lot of her and it was really nice of the Madaket crew to let us take our time with her.”
Third in her debut last fall on the turf, L Street Lady returned to the starting gate in December, this time on the dirt, and won by 7 ½. She was bet down to near co-favoritism in the Xtra Heat S. along with Maryland Million Lassie S. winner Chickieness (Blofeld) and rewarded her connections when she let Chickieness set the pace through much of the six-furlong contest and then took command at the top of the stretch.
“It was a beautiful trip,” Russell recalled. “She left there running and we didn’t want [Chickieness] to get too far ahead of us. She has seasoning on L Street Lady and is a good Maryland horse, but ‘L Street’ responded at the end and ran big.”
Both Prince of Jericho and L Street Lady are progressing in their training since their stakes wins and Russell has plans sketched out for their spring campaigns. The Munnings duo has a chance to claim stakes wins on the same day yet again during Laurel’s Winter Carnival program on Feb. 18.
“As long as he continues to progress, Prince of Jericho will run in the Miracle Wood S.,” Russell reported. “We’ll try a mile with him. Distance doesn’t seem to be an issue, but he’ll have to answer the question in the afternoon. L Street Lady will go to the Wide Country S. at seven furlongs. With the way she ran last time, I think locally she should be tough.”
Russell has gone to the winner’s circle 14 times already this year, putting her on pace to beat her career-high 100-win season last year. The current leading trainer of the Laurel meet, she has already amassed quite the arsenal of promising 3-year-olds for the year. Along with Prince of Jericho and L Street Lady, her winning sophomores include Haymarket Farm homebred Cats Inthe Timber (Honor Code), Grace and Charm (Accelerate), It’s Viper (Super Saver), Pharoahs Baby Gyal (American Pharoah) and Tappin Josie (Anchor Down). Hillwood Stable’s Post Time (Frosted), who won the Maryland Juvenile S. in December and is undefeated in three starts at Laurel, has yet to make his sophomore debut.
Doppelganger, the son of Into Mischief who ran second in last year’s GII San Felipe S. under Bob Baffert, has been transferred to Russell for his 4-year-old season. Campaigned by a group that includes SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables and others, he claimed an allowance at Laurel on Jan. 27 in his first start for Russell.
Wondrwherecraigis (Munnings), who gave Russell her first career graded stakes win in the 2021 GIII Bold Ruler H. and was a stakes winner in Maryland last year, will return to the track for his 6-year-old season. Russell said that no target is set in stone for the gelding owned by Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group, Madaket Stables and Michael Caruso, but added that the barn favorite put in his first work of the year at Laurel on Friday.
A native of Pennsylvania, Russell got her start in the industry as an amateur jockey and then worked for trainers Brad Cox, Jimmy Jerkens, Ron Moquett and Jonathan Sheppard before opening her stable in 2018. After five years of steady growth, while surpassing a 20% winning percentage in each season, Russell credits the owners behind BTR Racing Stable for her operation’s many achievements in such a short period.
“When you have the clients like we have–Madaket Stables, Mike Dubb and those types of guys–and now we’re getting horse from Starlight and the SF group, it’s a big deal,” she said. “We’re getting better quality in the barn and it’s exciting.”
With a growing number of equine constituents comes a need for skilled hands involved in the day-to-day running of the operation. Russell said that her team has taken it all in stride.
“My team has grown so much in the few years that I’ve been at this and I’m so proud of everyone and the responsibility that everyone has taken on to manage a larger number of horses and better quality of horses,” she said. “All we can hope is that they keep coming and our barn keeps growing and we can hopefully win big races moving forward.”
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