Our coverage of the October 18 West Virginia Breeders Classics kicks off today with this piece on Russell Road and some of his rivals in the evening’s biggest race.
by Jeff Brammer
Now the pair hopes to continue that tradition with a third West Virginia Breeders Classic victory.
Eight-year-old chestnut gelding Russell Road will likely join fellow previous winners Lucy’s Bob Boy and Fred High in the starting gate Oct. 18 for the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic, the richest state-bred race in the country.
Trained by James Casey, millionaire Russell Road won the Classic in 2009 and 2011, and will look to join Confucius Say as the race’s only three-time winner.
Lucy’s Bob Boy won the race in 2012 and Fred High won it in 2013.
The Classic – run over the dirt going 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races – is the highlight of an evening racing card showcasing the best in West Virginia-bred horses competing for purses totaling $1.28 million.
Ten years ago, Russell, the former owner of a stained glass restoration and manufacturing business in northern Virginia, purchased the first in a succession of yearlings from Lloyd, whose now deceased broodmare Roberta Grump resided on his farm located on Russell Road, near Berryville, Va.
The first two horses Russell bought were fillies out of Roberta Grump – Shesagrumptoo and Natures Annuity – and both earned nearly half-a-million dollars on the racetrack.
Russell campaigned multiple-stakes winning Shesagrumptoo for much of her career before she was claimed and retired as a broodmare to O’Sullivan Farms, located just outside Charles Town.
Natures Annuity spent her entire career racing in Russell’s silks, placing second in several stakes but none closer than her defeat by a nose in the 2009 Breeders Classic Cavada against My Sister Margaret. Natures Annuity is a broodmare for Russell, with her oldest foal now a yearling.
Impressive production for an older and largely unheralded broodmare, whose best progeny surprisingly was still yet to come.
“Roberta Grump ran one time and didn’t do anything,” Lloyd said. “But she was quite a producer. She was the golden goose that laid the golden egg, I guess you might say, for us for a long time.”
A fair description indeed.
In 2006, Roberta Grump gave birth to a leggy, but breathtakingly stout chestnut colt, later gelded and ultimately Russell’s third yearling purchase from Lloyd.
This time the 15-year-old broodmare had clearly outdone herself.
“He was just one of those really unusual horses where everything seemed to go right,” Lloyd said. “He didn’t have any hiccups along the way. To this day he’s a big, good looking son of a gun.”
Russell Road has won 27 races, including 19 stakes, with more than $1.6 million in earnings during a career now in its seventh season.
He briefly flirted with the Triple Crown trail as a 3-year-old in 2009, but retreated after a fifth-place finish behind I Want Revenge in the Gotham at Aqueduct.
Upon returning to his roots in the mid-Atlantic, the son of Wheaton quickly established himself as one of the best thoroughbreds in training locally while twice winning West Virginia Horse of the Year honors.
As a West Virginia-bred, Russell Road ranks second in all-time earnings behind only two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic participant Soul of the Matter, who earned $2.3 million.
[boxify cols_use =”3″ cols =”6″ position =”right” box_spacing =”5″ padding =”3″ background_color =”gray” background_opacity =”10″ border_width =”1″ border_color =”blue” border_style =”solid” height =”195″ ]2014 W.V. BREEDERS CLASSICS
- What: $500,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic
- When: Saturday, October 18, topping a card of stakes races for WV-breds
- What time: First post is 7:00 p.m.
- Where: Charles Town Races
- Headline: Last three Classic winners meet to settle the score[/boxify]
“He’s had a great career,” Russell said. “He loves to be at the track. He loves to train. Even on the farm, horses all have different personalities, but this guy here is just a pleasure to be around. Even though he can be a pain sometimes because he likes to nip and snap at you a little bit. But you can watch him on the farm and you can watch him on the racetrack and you can tell he just loves being alive. He just loves what he’s doing.”
Russell Road won six consecutive races during his 2- and 3-year-old campaigns leading up to his only career venture into graded stakes company in the Gotham.
After that Gotham defeat, he won six of his next seven races, including the 2009 Breeders Classic, to close out his 3-year-old season. But nagging on-again, off-again ailments and the usual wear and tear exhibited by horses racing regularly on the handicap circuit have begun to take their toll.
Yet scattered among troubled trips and just some flat out dud performances in more recent times, Russell Road won three stakes races, including the Breeders Classic, as a 5-year-old in 2011 and four more as a 6-year-old the following year.
As a 7-year-old, Russell Road won a pair of stakes races in the summer of 2013 at Mountaineer Park, including one at one-mile and another at six furlongs.
Earlier this year, he won his 8-year-old debut in May going six furlongs at Mountaineer in an open allowance race topping a short field that also included Lucy’s Bob Boy.
But Russell Road will carry a four-race losing streak into the Classic, including three consecutive defeats at the hands of Lucy’s Bob Boy, a 5-year-old son of Flatter.
In the most recent contest, on Sept. 20, Lucy’s Bob Boy dominated his four rivals by more than seven lengths, including Russell Road who finished second and Fred High who finished farther back in fourth.
“If you’d have to characterize (Russell Road) and put him in a category, he’s probably more of a late closing sprinter than anything else,” Russell said. “I’m pleased with how he’s doing. The only problem is there’s another horse here that’s 5 years old. Lucy’s Bob Boy is a super nice horse.
“Russell’s beaten everybody else, but this guy,” he continued. “So in the upcoming Breeders Classic I’m hoping Lucy, not to wish him any bad luck, but hopefully he’ll bounce a little bit after that kind of stellar performance that he showed back on (Sept. 20).”
Russell said he would continue to evaluate Russell Road’s performance and make a decision about the horse’s future plans. He said although he would never drop the horse into the claiming ranks, Russell Road could have a second calling doing fox hunting or show jumping for someone on the weekends.
“As much as I’d like to see him hit the $2 million mark I don’t use that as a gauge or guide as far as what we do with the horse,” Russell said. “I’m hoping this is not his last year. But we choose to let the horses kind of tell us. If he’s still sound and still Russell Road and able to compete at the level he’s at, then we’ll certainly give next year a try.
“Other people who are show jumpers or fox hunters are always looking for older geldings, especially large horses like him,” he continued. “I think he would be more happy as a horse with a purpose and doing something like that than just being turned out in a field. But we’re a ways from that. But those are some different possibilities.”
Jeff Brammer is sports editor at the Charles Tonw newspaper, The Spirit of Jefferson (spiritofjefferson.com).