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Hello Beautiful took the What A Summer. Photo by Jerry Dzierwinski.

Madaket Stables, Albert Frassetto, Mark Parkinson, K-Mac Stables and Magic City Stables’ Hello Beautiful picked up where she left off in 2020 while punching her ticket for a return to graded-stakes competition with a front-running victory in Saturday’s $100,000 What a Summer at Laurel Park.

The 35th running of the What a Summer for fillies and mares 4 and older and the 25th edition of the Fire Plug for 4-year-olds and up, both sprinting six furlongs, were among six stakes worth $550,000 in purses on a Winter Carnival program that opened Maryland’s 2021 stakes calendar.

It was the fifth career stakes victory for Hello Beautiful ($2.40), third in a row and third of the day for jockey Sheldon Russell, following Gale in the $75,000 Geisha and Wendell Fong in the $100,000 Fire Plug. The winning time was 1:10.67 over a main track rated good.

Russell’s wife, trainer Brittany Russell, and the connections are hoping to use the What a Summer as a stepping-stone to the $250,000 Runhappy Barbara Fritchie (G3), contested at seven furlongs Feb. 13 at Laurel.

“To be fair, I think she’s better going seven-eighths,” Sheldon Russell said. “So, she has options. She showed us last time I rode her that she can rate. Hopefully she can keep progressing and we can have some fun with her this year.”

Breaking from Post 3 in a field of eighth as the 1-5 favorite, Hello Beautiful was quickly on the lead and kept busy through a quarter-mile in 22.22 seconds and a half in 45.54 by 10-time winner Malibu Mischief, who moved within a half-length on the turn as their rivals lagged behind.

“It almost seems like in the races she runs in now there’s always one or two [horses] that have a lot of speed, but me and Brittany sit down the night before every time she runs and people forget, our filly’s fast, too,” Sheldon Russell said. “She’s extremely fast out of the gate and coming into the race she was very fresh and she was doing well.”

Maryland-bred Hello Beautiful, by Golden Lad, opened up again with little urging from Russell to take a four-length advantage into the stretch and was never threatened while geared down as 10-1 long shot Club Car closed for second.

“I always ride her the same way. I bounce her out of there and if somebody wants to get crazy or get me outrun, I’ll have to go to Plan B. But, she’s free-rolling filly so I just jump out and leave her alone,” Russell said. “She gets comfortable in front and she’s very easy to ride. A great job to Brittany and her team. I’m just very happy she won again for us.”

Club Car, fourth in the Willa On the Move Dec. 26 at Laurel, was 8 ½ lengths ahead of 23-1 long shot Bridlewood Cat in third. They were followed by Escapade, Malibu Mischief, Tarawa, New York Groove and Cause I’m Edgy.

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Wendell Fong won the Fire Plug. Photo by Jerry Dzierwinski.

Hello Beautiful improved to 7-0 lifetime at Laurel, including stakes wins at 2 in the Maryland Million Lassie and Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship, and 3 in the Maryland Million Distaff and Safely Kept, the latter two to cap her 2020 campaign.

Now 7-for-13 lifetime with earnings approaching $400,000, Hello Beautiful was sixth behind Frank’s Rockette in her only previous graded-stakes attempt, the six-furlong Prioress (G2) last September at Saratoga.

The What a Summer honors the Eclipse Award-winning sprinter of 1977, bred in Maryland and a winner of 18 of 31 lifetime starts. Trained by the late Bud Delp and Leroy Jolley, both Hall of Famers, she won nine stakes including the Fall Highweight Handicap and Silver Spoon Handicap twice, and the Black-Eyed Susan.

In the Fire Plug — often a steppingstone to the General George the same weekend as the Fritchie — Wendell Fong rallied to win by a neck and give trainer Talie Lynch her first victory. Sheldon Russell was aboard, one of his three stakes wins on the day.

“It was me and my mom and my son watching it at home and we were screaming and crying. It was amazing,” Lynch said. “I think it’s been holding off until this horse. I really think it was. He just means more to me than the world. To have it with him, I’ll never forget it.”