For all the time and energy spent on the details of Thoroughbred racing – track surfaces, veterinary procedures, medication rules, horsemen’s contracts, stallion choices, licensing, purses, policy, partners, claims, conditions, racing dates, simulcast deals, breeding-fund incentives and about a thousand more – sometimes it’s nice to think about a horse.
Mane, tail, brain, legs, eyes, ears, hooves, bones, muscles, speed, talent and all the rest come together to form a sentient being who feels, communicates and cares. Some do those things more, or better, than others. Some can win. Some can’t. Some never reach their potential. Some over-achieve. And some do all that and more.
Consider Hello Beautiful, and all she did for Brittany Russell.
At the time a trainer for less than 10 months, Russell spent $6,500 to buy the filly at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s December mixed sale. From the first crop of Golden Lad, the dark bay yearling – yes, a December yearling – fit the description for the shopping list put together by Russell and Jodi Quinn of Dark Horse Racing.
“The point was to just find a Maryland-bred we liked,” said Russell. “When you spend $6,500 on a horse, they don’t have to be a superstar for you to be successful. You can be aggressive if you need to. She turned out to be much better than she had to be.”
That comment came in October, 10 months post-sale and right after Hello Beautiful won the Maryland Million Lassie. And would turn into a massive understatement as Hello Beautiful went on to win two more Maryland Million stakes, earn $587,820 and unlock all sorts of opportunities for her trainer. The career ended late last year, with back-to-back losses, and officially closed for Russell when Hello Beautiful left the Laurel Park barn for the Keeneland January sale.
Like anybody, Russell – whose husband Sheldon was Hello Beautiful’s regular jockey – had mixed feelings. Lots.
“The day we were loading her to go to Kentucky we took the family into the barn and took pictures with her and the whole send-off was pretty emotional,” Russell said. “Not knowing who was going to purchase her made it that way. You didn’t know how it would turn out, which wasn’t easy.”
It turned out just fine as Larry Best’s OXO Equine spent $410,000 to buy the 5-year-old mare, an eight-time stakes winner who won half her 20 starts over three seasons. Initial plans had Hello Beautiful joining the OXO broodmare ranks for a date with Instagrand, who won a Grade 2 for OXO before retiring to Taylor Made Farm as a stallion.
“It was a very big deal to have her go to somebody like that,” said Russell. “She’s going to get every opportunity to do well.”
Bred by Ellen Charles’ Hillwood Stable, Hello Beautiful got that at just about every step – a maiden win in her third start for Russell and Dark Horse, a sale to Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stable and partners, all but two starts in her home state and a couple of not-to-be graded stakes tries.
Russell hesitated when asked for a favorite moment or memory. That 2019 Lassie triumph was the trainer’s first in a stakes. A 2020 win in the Maryland Million Distaff erased the sting of stakes losses on the road at Ellis Park and Saratoga. A 2021 win in the Alma North at Pimlico was Sheldon Russell’s 1,500th win as a jockey. Last fall’s Distaff score tied Ben’s Cat, Eighttofasttocatch, Safely Kept and others with a record three Maryland Million wins.
It may have been easier to have Russell choose a favorite child. Edy or Rye?
“My first stakes, Sheldon winning his 1,500th on her . . . I’m getting a little emotional . . . When she left for the sale, Sheldon said, ‘I’ll never ride her again.’ That’s sad,” she said finally. “She’s the best horse I’ve trained, but she was so important to our family and all of us. She was a different kind of special.” She left behind a big space in the barn, figuratively, for sure, but literally as well.
“I didn’t want to just put anyone in her stall, and we have plenty of good ones, but they have houses already,” Russell said. “This Mohaymen filly, Unadulterated, just came back from the farm and I’m like, ‘You, I want to look at you.’ We wanted to put a horse in there that we liked, that had no pressure – it’s Stall 1, next to the tack room. She’s pretty cool.”