Millionaire fan favorite Russell Road retired
Russell Road rallied late to nail Lucy’s Bob Boy and score his third West Virginia Breeders Classic win in 2014. Photo by Jeff Brammer.
by Ted Black
Less than a month shy of the 30th annual West Virginia Breeders Classics, a night when he had made his presence known over the previous eight years, the durable and venerable Russell Road was officially retired from racing last weekend by owner Mark Russell and trainer James W. Casey three weeks after he suffered a mild suspensory injury in his right foreleg.
Russell Road, a 10-year-old gelded son of Wheaton out of the Verification mare Roberta Grump, won once in four starts this year and had finished second most recently in the $100,000 Northern Panhandle Stakes at Mountaineer Park on the undercard of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby. But Casey and Russell were concerned with how he returned from the trip, and x-rays revealed a modest hairline injury to his right front suspensory ligament. Both had initially held out hope that Russell Road could compete in either the Onion Juice or the Classic on West Virginia Breeders Classics night on October 8, but the fear of more serious injury prompted them to make another choice.
“The doctors looked at his x-rays and said he could break down if we ran him again,” Casey said on Saturday night. “You know, he’s been so good to us that we didn’t want to see his career end like that. We knew the right thing was to just retire him. We’re hoping they do something for him here on Classics night. He’s still at the [Taylor Mountain] farm until we find another home for him. But he’s been a great horse. Not too many West Virginia-breds ever earn $2 million.”
In fact, Russell Road is only the second West Virginia-bred in history to eclipse the $2 million plateau in career earnings, slipping past the mark by $1,586 in his final race. Only Soul Of The Matter, a Grade I winner who finished second to Cigar in the inaugural Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba Race Course, had previously eclipsed the $2 million mark in career earnings among WV-breds and still rates as the richest horse the Mountain State has ever produced.
Russell Road, who won 31 of 62 starts, finished second 14 times and third on another five occasions, cracked the $2 million barrier last month but will not have a chance to add to his bankroll. But Russell admits that he had already established his legacy.
“It’s not going to be the same without him at the barn,” Russell said on Saturday night. “He had been so good for so long. He earned his $2 million the hard way in a lot of state-bred stakes and that doesn’t even count the breeder bonuses that he made. I think we’ll find a good home for him, perhaps somewhere where he can be a good dressage horse. I don’t think he would enjoy a life of just standing around and stomping on flies.”
Russell Road certainly enhanced his reputation at Charles Town where he won the West Virginia Breeders Classic three times [2009, 2011 and 2014] and competed on WVBC night each year from 2008-2015. With his dead-game 2014 win, in which he surged past Lucy’s Bob Boy in the final jumps to win, Russell Road joined Confucius Say as the only three-time winners of the Classic.
Russell Road also won several open stakes, including the Dancing Count at Laurel Park in his three-year-old debut in 2009, which was followed by a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes over the inner track at Aqueduct, after which he won the $100,000 Blue & Gold Stakes at Charles Town.
“People forget that he made his first two starts as a three-year-old at other tracks,” Casey said. “He won the [Dancing Count] at Laurel and then he ran well in the Gotham and got fifth, I believe. I thought it was a respectable effort. He won open stakes here, and he was always in the Classic. This would have been his eighth start in the Classic if he had made it back. But he won it three times out of seven, which is pretty good for any horse. We just didn’t want to take a chance that something would go wrong.”
Mark Russell had gained an appreciation for Russell Road early in his career. After the Wheaton gelding finished second in his career debut at Charles Town at age two, he ended his freshman campaign with five straight victories, including the Vincent Moscarelli Memorial and the West Virginia Futurity, and earned over $200,000.
Following his sophomore starts in the Dancing Count and Gotham, he eventually concluded his three-year-old season with seven wins from nine starts and earnings of over $475,000, capped by his first score in the Classic.
“He really got good at the end of his two-year-old season and he stayed good all the way through his three-year-old season,” Russell said. “He beat older horses in the Classic the first year. He tailed off a little at age four [winning just three of nine starts] but he came back to have four more really good years after that. A lot of times horses peak at age four or five, but he seemed like he was just as good at six, seven and eight as he was early in his career. We’re going to miss him, but he was so good to us that we had to do the right thing and make sure we’re just as good to him.”
Russell Road won four of eight starts and banked over $340,000 at age five, including his second triumph in the WV Classic. He came back to win four of six starts and earn over $225,000 at age six in 2012, won three of nine starts and earn over $260,000 at age seven in 2013 and then won twice in six starts and banked over $270,000 at age eight, another season in which he ascended to the head of the WV-bred class by taking the Classic, overhauling Lucy’s Bob Boy with a determined late bid to prevail.
“You know, for him to win the Classic at age eight and beat Lucy’s Bob Boy, that was just a tremendous effort,” Casey said. “A lot of people thought we might stop with him before that race, but he was doing so good, we decided to give him one more try. Last year was a little disappointing [Russell Road was ninth in the Classic], but Mark’s other horse [Charitable Annuity] won the race so it kind of got lost a little bit. This year he seemed be to doing okay, but he didn’t come out of that last race too good and we knew it was almost time to retire him.”
Russell was hoping that Russell Road might make one last appearance on WVBC night, which would have been his last race, regardless of the outcome. But after the latest x-rays revealed the injury, Russell and Casey quickly agreed that the aging, yet ageless warrior, had earned his chance to retire.
“The Classic was going to be his last start,” Russell said. “That was going to be it for him. We wanted to see him reach $2 million and he did that, so there really wasn’t any reason to push him for the Classics. The injury really wasn’t that bad, but the vets cautioned us about running him again. We didn’t want to see him break down. He’s been too good to us to see him go out like that, so we decided to retire him and hopefully they’ll do something for him on Classics night and then name a [state-bred stakes] race for him next year.”