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Jockey Sheldon Russell caps 4-win day in $150,000 Maryland Million Classic

Monday Morning QB, with jockey Sheldon Russell aboard, wins the Maryland Million Classic on Saturday at Laurel Park.
Monday Morning QB, with jockey Sheldon Russell aboard, wins the Maryland Million Classic on Saturday at Laurel Park.

Jockey Sheldon Russell, a month into his return from a broken wrist, put an exclamation point on his comeback with four wins Saturday capped by a record-setting victory aboard Monday Morning Qb in the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic at Laurel Park.

The 1 1/8-mile Classic for 3-year-olds headlined the 35th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program of 12 races featuring eight stakes and four starter stakes on “Maryland’s Day at the Races,” celebrating the progeny of stallions standing in the state.

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Given a textbook ride by Russell, Monday Morning Qb ($15.80) hit the wire in 1:48.13 over a fast main track, the fastest Classic since the race was moved to its current distance in 2009. The Classic was run at 1 ¼ miles from 1986-92 and 1 3/6 miles from 1993-2008.

Russell, 33, captured the $50,000 Starter Handicap with trainer Dale Capuano’s Jumpstartmyheart in the opener and went on to wins in the $100,000 Distaff with Hello Beautiful, trained by his wife, Brittany, and $100,000 Turf with Pretty Good Year. Russell moved into sixth in Maryland Million history with 11 total wins.

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“I’m a little bit of a pessimist. I’m thinking, ‘How many does he have in him today? Did he use up all his luck before he got to me?’ That’s a natural trainer instinct,” winning trainer Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid Jr. joked. “But, Sheldon’s a good rider. I’ve known him for years and he’s won some nice races for us, so I had complete confidence in Sheldon.”

Russell was leading the Laurel Park summer meet standings when he was injured in a gate mishap July 17 at Delaware Park. He returned Sept. 24 on opening day of the Preakness Meet at Pimlico, where he went 1-for-16 but rode Excessive in the Preakness Stakes (G1). A seven-time meet champion in Maryland and the state’s leading overall rider in 20011, Russell was 7-for-30 at Laurel’s fall meet before Saturday’s 4-for-9 performance.

“It’s just fantastic. I haven’t really been back that long. We sort of came back Preakness week and I was able to pick up a Preakness mount and sort of pick my head up a little bit,” Russell said. “Business has been great, so I can’t really complain. My agent, Marty Leonard, has done a great job.”

Winner of the Heft Stakes for juveniles last December at Laurel, Monday Morning Qb became only the second 3-year-old ever to win the Classic, following Bonus Points in 2017.

Harpers First Ride, who had a two-race stakes win streak snapped, was second, three-quarters of a length ahead of 45-1 long shot Tattooed. It was five lengths back to Tap the Mark in fourth, followed by Cordmaker, Top Line Growth and Prendimi. Top Line Growth, the 2019 Iowa Derby winner, entered the Classic with a perfect 4-0 record at Laurel.

Sprint: Owner/trainer/breeder Nancy Heil’s Karan’s Notion pulled off a 16-1 upset victory in the $100,000 Maryland Million Sprint, a 6-furlong dash for 3-year-olds and up.

“I don’t believe it’s real yet. I’ve been training 50-some years, but I’ve never had a [Maryland Million] eligible horse,” Heil said. “When he was a baby — he had these long legs, like spider legs — and we said, ‘I think he’s going to be the one.’”

Karan’s Notion did all the work himself while winning his stakes debut, setting a strong early pace and continuing on to register a length victory under Yomar Ortiz in 1:09.15.

Karan’s Notion broke his maiden in his third career start by 13 lengths in a July 20 maiden race for $40,000 claimers. He went on to win a state-bred allowance two races later before finishing in the money in two open-company allowance races.

Turf: Lead Off Stable’s diminutive gelding Pretty Good Year, standing just 13 hands tall, came with a steady run down the center of the track to catch leaders Cannon’s Roar and favored Nick Papagiorgio and spring a 15-1 upset of the $100,000 Maryland Million Turf, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.

Pretty Good Year ($32) gave jRussell his third win of the day, following Hello Beautiful in the $100,000 Distaff and Jumpstartmyheart in the opener. It was also the third win for sire Great Notion, extending his streak to 11 straight years with a Maryland Million winner and moving him into sole possession of third on the all-time list with 16.

Based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Pretty Good Year’s owner is Bobby Goodyear, racing manager for the 4-year-old gelding’s breeder, Stuart Grant’s The Elkstone Group. Elkstone also bred and owns Classic contender Top Line Growth.

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Distaff: Hello Beautiful welcomed a return to action at Laurel Park, scoring a thoroughly dominating 11 1/4-length victory in the 100,000 Maryland Million Distaff, a 7-furlong sprint for fillies and mares.

Hello Beautiful, who is owned by Madaket Stables, Albert Frassetto, Mark Parkinson, K-Mac Stables and Magic City Stables, went to post as the 1-2 favorite in a field of nine on the strength of her past domination of Maryland-bred competition, including a victory in the 2019 Maryland Million Lassie.

After venturing out of town for her last two starts, including a sixth-place finish in the Sept. 5 Prioress (G2) at Saratoga, Hello Beautiful reestablished her dominance at Laurel while running seven furlongs in a dazzling 1:21.84.

The Brittany Russell-trained 3-year-old daughter of Golden Lad broke alertly to take an early lead on the backstretch, only to receive a strong inside challenge by Limited View, who took a narrow lead into the far turn. Sheldon Russell, the trainer’s husband, was content to rate Hello Beautiful to the outside of the challenger before sending her to the lead on the turn into the homestretch.

Nursery: Under a ground-saving trip by jockey Jorge Ruiz, Louis J. Ulman and Neil Glasser’s Kenny Had a Notion ran away from a dozen others down the stretch to win the $100,000 Maryland Million Nursery.

A 2-year-old son of Great Motion, Kenny Had a Notion beat stablemate Alwaysinahurry by 5 lengths while covering 6 furlongs in 1:10.55. Reassured was third.

Lassie: Barak Farm’s Miss Nondescript, making her second start and first for trainer Michael Trombetta, rallied down the stretch and got up in the final strides to win the $100,000 Maryland Million Lassie by a neck over Street Lute, giving freshman sire Mosler his first stakes winner.

Miss Nondescript, who broke her maiden at first asking Sept. 4 at Monmouth Park, covered the 6 furlongs in 1:10.13 under jockey Trevor McCarthy.

Turf sprint: Robert Masiello’s Fiya continued his hot streak this year, stepping up to stakes company for the first time and extending his win streak to four races with a popular 2 ¼-length triumph in the $75,000 Maryland Million Turf Sprint Handicap.

The 5 ½-furlong Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds and up and $100,000 Ladies for fillies and mares 3 and older going 1 1/8 miles, both contested over Laurel’s grass course.

Fiya ($2.20), bred in Maryland by Ann Merryman, completed the distance in 1:03.56 over a Bowl Game turf course layout rated good to give jockey Trevor McCarthy his third stakes win of the day following the $100,000 Ladies with Epic Idea and $100,000 Lassie with Miss Nondescript.

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Ladies: Vivian E. Rall’s homebred Epic Idea, a two-time winner sprinting on the turf but who had never beyond one mile, successfully stretched out to 1 1/8 miles to earn her first career stakes win in the $100,000 Maryland Million Ladies.

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Epic Idea ($13.60) gave her sire, Great Notion, a Maryland Million winner for the 11th consecutive year. She is trained by Ann Merryman and assisted by her son, Michael.

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