Jock Sheldon Russell wins first start in nine months

Jockey Sheldon Russell returned from a lengthy layoff the best way possible Friday at Laurel Park: with a win aboard a horse trained by his wife Brittany and owned by his friend Justin Horowitz, who races as ItsTheJHo.

“Jevian Toledo’s my daughter Edie’s favorite jockey,” Russell joked afterwards. “Hopefully, I can win some races and we can change that.”

Russell got a leg up in Friday’s fourth race, a $45,000 maiden claimer in Laurel’s newly reconfigured claiming ladder, on first-time starter Heldish, a son of Great Notion, and the betting public was all in. They made Heldish the 4-5 post time favorite in a field of seven.

Heldish broke alertly to seize the early advantage, leading by a length through an opening quarter in 22.93 seconds in the five-furlong test for two-year-olds. His nearest pursuer, Box N Ben,with Jorge Ruiz up, stayed close even as the leading duo left the others far behind.

They started one-two and finished one-two, with Heldish winning by 2 ¼ lengths over Box N Ben in 58.77 seconds for five furlongs on a fast main track. It was nearly eight lengths farther back to show horse Smart and Fast.

Heldish returned $3.60 to win and topped an exacta that returned $5.50 for one dollar.

Russell’s 2021 season came to an end September 9 when he was tossed by his mount prior to the last race of the day, suffering a Lisfranc injury, involving both the bones and ligaments in the middle part of his foot. 

The injury required surgery, and the recovery period, he said, included four months of doing, well, nothing.

“When I say this was probably the hardest injury to come back from, it was,” Russell said. “I fell in September, our son [the couple’s second child] was born in November, I’d only gotten the surgery the month before and there’s absolutely no walking. I didn’t feel like I was going to be very helpful, but we made it work.”

The injury was, as his daughter termed it, “a bad owie,” and Russell said the mental impact made it doubly challenging.

“Just being off the foot for four months and not being able to put weight on it, that was very difficult,” he explained. “It plays with your mind a little bit. You feel useless, just sitting on the couch.”

By April, Russell was back in the irons and nearing a return to race riding. But then he suffered a broken collarbone during morning training and went back to the sidelines.

Finally, Friday, he returned to the races, and the winner’s circle. That’s a place he’s visited more than 1,500 times in his career.

Today’s win was meaningful to Russell and his wife – and to the others in the jockeys’ room. They gave Russell the surprise shower usually reserved for riders when they earn their first career victory.

“I trusted in the doctor, he said it would heal, and they were right,” Russell said. “I just didn’t think it would take this long.”