Owner Mark Russell said that in 1985, when he got started in the Thoroughbred business, he would have been happy to have a really nice allowance horse to race at Charles Town. He ended up with far more than he could have imagined.
The evening of Oct. 8 Russell stood in the Charles Town winner’s circle not after a victory but to provide a fitting sendoff for the 10-year-old Wheaton gelding Russell Road, a winner of 31 of 62 career races – 22 of them stakes victories – for earnings of $2,001,586. The presentation was held just before the start of the West Virginia Breeders Classics program.
Bred by Robert Lloyd out of the Verification mare Roberta Gump and trained by James W. Casey, Russell Road with each passing year grew to become one of the most most popular horses to ever race at Charles Town. He won the lucrative West Virginia Breeders Classic three times (2009, 2011 and 2014) and retired as the second-richest West Virginia-bred behind Soul of the Matter, a multiple graded stakes winner who earned $2,302,818.
Russell Road last raced Aug. 6 at Mountaineer in the $100,000 Northern Panhandle Stakes for state-breds. He finished second to In the Fairway in the 6-furlong event but cleared the $2 million mark in earnings.
This year’s $500,000 Breeders Classic was supposed to be the gelding’s final start, but Russell said the horse pulled a suspensory in his right front leg during the race and a decision was made to call it quits. In the fall of recent years Russell had hinted Russell Road may have run his last race, but careful management kept him racing until age 10.
Russell Road was sent to Casey’s Taylor Mountain Farm Oct. 9 and will remain there until he embarks on a second career.
“We had him out on the track the last two mornings to get the jitters out of him,” Russell said after the retirement ceremony. “He’s still very sharp. We let everybody come by the barn last week to get one last look at him.
“I’ve gotten inquiries about him from show horse people and we are researching those inquiries. We’ll figure out the best spot for him. I’d kind of like to have him close by. He’s a horse that loves to be around people and loves to have a job to do.”
Russell Road raced for nine seasons. He was highly regarded as a 3-year-old in 2009 and competed in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes; he ended that year with his first of three Breeders Classic wins.
“The first 10 to 12 years as a horse owner were lean, and then Russell Road came along,” Russell said. “It was the ultimate to go up to New York and compete in the Gotham Stakes. It was a like a dream, and after that we knew we had a special horse.
“He came back here to represent West Virginia. We let him be the West Virginia racing fans’ horse. He certainly has become a West Virginia icon for Charles Town and the entire state.”
Read more about Russell Road and the 2016 West Virginia Breeders Classics in the November 2016 magazine.