Jockey Sheldon Russell had three mounts today in his return to the saddle at Laurel Park after missing nearly three months with multiple punctures in his lungs from broken ribs sustained in a fall April 25 at Pimlico.
And it was the last — and longest priced — of those that gave him his first winner of the summer on his first day back.
Russell, who earned his 1,000th career victory earlier this year and was the leading rider at all three Maryland meets in 2011, steered Wild Chatter outside in the seventh race, a maiden special weight on the turf, and the sophomore daughter of Wildcat Heir closed determinedly to win by three-quarters of a length.
Wild Chatter, trained by Niall Saville, now has one win from four career starts. She paid $20 to win.
“We were able to ride three nice horses today,” said Russell. “As it worked out, Niall’s been a great supporter of my career ever since he first started.”
Saville and Russell worked together at one time for then-trainer Michael Dickinson, and Russell described the two as “very good friends.” Russell was the rider aboard Legendary when that runner registered Saville’s first stakes win as a trainer last September.
Earlier on the card, Russell was aboard 4-5 favorite Another Seven for trainer Tim Keefe in the fourth race, but that runner was along too late, settling for third. And he rode Simmadownnow for trainer Mary Eppler in the sixth, but that runner, coming off a 15-month layoff, was never involved and finished sixth.
Russell, who was cheered by numerous well-wishers following the win, appreciated the opportunity afforded him by the three trainers.
“It’s nice, you know,” he said. “They [the trainers] trusted me. I’ve had 3 1/2 months off. I couldn’t possibly be in the shape that I was in [before the injury]. They knew coming in I could get a little tired, but I was just very happy with the three horses I got to ride today.”
Russell’s been notable during his career for both his success and his propensity to get injured. It’s slowed his career considerably. But perhaps if you squint your eyes in just the right way, you can see how the injuries can benefit a rider.
“If you take enough time off when you are injured, you get hungry again and you want to go out there and do it,” Russell explained. “It’s not only a job; it’s something I love doing.”