From a Maryland Jockey Club release
Since arriving in Maryland in the fall of 2007, no rider has won more races at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course than Sheldon Russell. On Saturday, the 26-year-old will have mounts in three of the four $100,000 stakes on the nine-race card at Laurel.
In the Frank Whiteley, Jr. Stakes for 3-year-olds, Russell will ride Jessethemarine for the first time. The John Rigattieri trainee won both the Whirling Ash Stakes at Delaware through disqualification and the James F. Lewis Stakes at Laurel before finishing second in the Marylander Stakes last month. The son of With Distinction is the 4-5 morning line favorite.
“I just happened to be working horses one day at Bowie and stopped by the Rigattieri barn,” Russell said. “He asked if I wanted to sit on one and pulled out Jessethemarine. I have worked him in his two starts leading up to this start. He is a really nice horse in the morning. I am excited.”
Russell will be aboard Bacopa Breeze, one of three stakes winners in the competitive Marshua Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Turfway Park shipper has reeled off three straight wins, the most recent a front- running victory in the Smart Halo Stakes on November 16. Trained by William Cowans, Bacopa Breeze is the 7-2 second choice on Keith Feustle’s morning line.
“I was here when she won the Smart Halo and I watched her win at Mountaineer in her previous start (Sept. 21). That was visually impressive,” Russell added. “She looks like she has some speed but the trainer told me she will rate if she has to.”
Blue Mountain Stakes winner Gracer is the 4-5 favorite. The filly finished third in the Matron Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park before her Blue Mountain score. Alex Cintron will ride for Tony Dutrow.
Maryland Million Lassie winner Jonesin for Jerry (9-2) is the third stakes winner in the field. The Jerry Robb trainee missed a chance to start in the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship last weekend when the race did not fill. Abel Castellano returns from New York and retains the mount.
“Jonesin for Jerry is extremely fast. I have worked her in the morning. She is a stone cold runner,” said Russell. “This is a quality field and I hope to have Bacopa Breeze in a good spot.”
The field also features Raging Smoke (4-1), who finished second to Gracer in the Blue Mountain, Tupancy Links (15-1), runner-up in the Gin Talking Stakes here last month, and Jump Two (20-1), who broke her maiden in her debut three weeks ago.
Russell was named to ride Gravesend Handicap winner Strapping Groom, who is the 6-5 program favorite in the Fire Plug Stakes but he opted to ride Service for Ten, the 5-2 second choice. The pair clicked in the Dave’s Friend Stakes in November, closing late to win by a length and a half. Previously racing for Damon Dilodovico, Service for Ten now trained by Mike Geralis, Dilodovico’s longtime assistant. Saturday’s start will be the first for Geralis.
“I remember riding him when they first claimed Service For Ten in 2011. He ran really well that day but I was committed to another horse and Julian Pimentel got the mount,” Russell said. “It was nice to get back on him. He is a nice, easy horse to ride. We got a great set-up last time and it looks like that could happen again. There’s some speed in the race. I hope the horse runs well for Mike. It would be great to get him the win. He and Damon are good guys. I have full faith in Mike having him ready for a big run.”
Since being claimed for $35,000 by David Jacobson in May, Strapping Groom has raced in eight straight stakes, with four victories, including the Forego Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. The mount is now open.
“I know he is 50-50 to go in the race and we already committed to Service for Ten,” Russell said.
Russell does not have a mount in the Nellie Morse Stakes. Welcome Guest (7-5), Firenze Feeling (2-1), Access to Charlie (3-1) and No Splits (8-1) top the six fillies and mares in the field.
Russell has won 536 races at the major Maryland tracks, including one Thursday afternoon. He was the state’s leading rider in 2011 and finished second the last two years.
(Featured photo, of Sheldon Russell, by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.)