Brittany Russell, Jeiron Barbosa earn Laurel meet titles

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Surrounded by her family, Brittany Russell celebrated Mother’s Day in style by winning with her only two starters Sunday at Laurel Park and clinching her first career training title.

Russell, 32, ended the 22-day spring meet with a flourish, winning five races from nine starters over the final weekend to edge Jamie Ness, 14-13 and snap Claudio Gonzalez’s streak at nine consecutive meet titles in Maryland. Gonzalez wound up third with 10 wins.

“It’s a huge accomplishment. My team, just how far we’ve come in a short time, it’s going to take me a little bit to wrap my head around it,” Russell said. “I think it’s a really big deal for the barn. My crew is amazing. I’m lucky for the clients I have and the barn we’ve built.”

Russell and Ness entered Sunday’s closing day program tied with 12 wins after Ness beat Russell with their only starters in the fifth race Saturday. The Elkstone Group’s 7-year-old gelding Stroll Smokin ($5.60), favored at 9-5, captured Race 4 to push Russell ahead, and Sycamore Hall Thoroughbreds’ 3-year-old filly Little Bit of That ($4.80) made it official with her triumph in Race 4. Ridden by Forest Boyce, she went off the 7-5 favorite.

You Must Chill ($3.60) edged Indian Lake, both trained and co-owned by Ness, in Race 7 for the final margin.

“It’s cool because you can see when we’re hot and when we’re cold,” Russell said. “Through the winter we were a little quiet. We have some turf horses coming back, we gave some horses a break, you have your 2-year-olds that you’re waiting on to develop into better 3-year-olds, like this filly. Things just kind of checked into place at the right time.

“Stroll Smokin, I loved him today,” she added. “[Little Bit of That] we gave some time. She had a little bit of an ankle that we needed to clean up. She’s one that if you can get her brain right, she can run.”

Russell posed in the winner’s circle following Race 4 with her husband, injured champion jockey Sheldon Russell; their daughter Edy, who turns 3 in August, and 6-month-old son Rye; and Sheldon Russell’s mother, Alison.

“Sheldon has been so important to our success, both in and out of the barn,” Russell said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”

Russell got her introduction to horses at the age of 11 when she went to work with her father at Breakaway Farm in Pennsylvania on weekends. She rode in 20 amateur races in the U.S. and Europe with two wins between 2006 and 2017 before turning to training. She worked for Brad Cox, Jimmy Jerkens, Ron Moquett and Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard before going out on her own, winning with her first career starter, Oh My, Feb. 25, 2018 at Laurel.

Karen Patty was the first female to lead the trainer standings in Maryland, during the 1992 spring meet at historic Pimlico Race Course. The only others are Mary Eppler, at Laurel’s 2016 fall stand; Linda Rice, who tied for the top spot at Laurel’s 2017 winter meet; and now Russell.

“I don’t even think of it like that,” Russell said. “Just to do it, no matter what, it’s a big deal.”

The battle for leading jockey came down to the final race of the meet when Jevian Toledo finished sixth aboard favored Scintilli and fell one win short of seven-pound apprentice Jeiron Barbosa, 20-19. It is the first riding title for Barbosa, an 18-year-old native of Puerto Rico, who had a five-win edge before missing the final three days of the spring meet serving a suspension.

Barbosa becomes only the third apprentice in a decade to lead the jockey standings at Laurel, following Yomar Ortiz (2013 winter) and Julio Correa (2019 summer). Toledo, Maryland’s overall riding champion in 2015, 2017 and 2021, had three wins, three seconds and three thirds in 12 mounts during Barbosa’s absence, including the Race 4 triumph on Stroll Smokin.

“I’m feeling really happy and really grateful with all the opportunities,” Barbosa said through fellow Maryland jockey and family friend Angel Cruz. “To be here my first month and be leading rider of the spring meet, it’s a big accomplishment.”

According to Equibase statistics Barbosa rode his first professional race Jan. 1 in Puerto Rico, where he won three times before arriving in the U.S. March 23. Two days later, he made his mainland debut at Laurel and won with each of his first two mounts – Heliacal Rising and Ludicrous Mode.

Barbosa registered four multi-win days during the spring meet, including going 4-for-4 April 9. He won for 14 different trainers – Claudio Gonzalez (six times), Hugh McMahon (twice), Mike Trombetta, Bob Klesaris, Kieron Magee, Annette Eubanks, Ferris Allen III, Marilyn McMullen, Dale Capuano, Hamilton Smith, Robbie Bailes, Chuck Lawrence, Brian Brooks and Rob Atras.

“He’s been looking mighty good to me. I’d watched him on other people’s horses and it looks like he makes the right decisions. He’s small, but he finishes good,” the 77-year-old Smith, a winner of nearly 2,100 races, said. “He’s doing awfully good right now. He’s got everybody’s attention, and that’s why he’s getting better horses to ride.”

Barbosa said having immediate success allowed him to settle right in and display his talent to local horsemen.

“It felt really good because coming from Puerto Rico, nobody knew me and I didn’t know any English. To win those two races gave me confidence and gave a lot of people confidence that I can ride. I’m just happy and blessed to be in the position I’m in right now,” Barbosa said. “My expectation was to come, ride the horses and do as good as I can. But I didn’t expect to do as good as I’m doing right now and winning so many races as I have, day and night. I’m just so happy.”

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