The following appeared in a “Breeders’ Cup Presents” piece in The Paulick Report on March 22. Sheldon Russell has been a popular jockey at Colonial Downs over the years and was leading rider at the New Kent track in 2011. He competed regularly in 2019’s Racing Revival season where he guided million dollar earning horse Extravagant Kid to victory in the Da Hoss Stakes.
It seems like some things are just meant to be.
Then-assistant trainer Brittany Trimble Russell first met and dated the man who is now her husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, in 2012. Then, Brittany’s boss at the time, Tim Ritchey, offered her the chance to travel the country working at different racetracks, and she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
As Brittany spent the next several years working for trainers like Jimmy Jerkens, Jonathan Thomas, Ron Moquett, and Brad Cox all across the Eastern half of the United States, she and Sheldon remained long-distance friends.
Eventually, the racing game brought them back together again.
“I think everything just worked out the way it was meant to,” Brittany said simply. “It was like I’d never left.”
Each made their way back to Maryland in 2017, and things picked up almost where they’d left off. Today, the couple has built both a relationship and a successful Thoroughbred training business at Laurel Park.
They were married in August of 2018, and their daughter, Edy, was born a year later.
“She is our why; she’s why we work so hard,” said Brittany. “I love that I’m able to enjoy this game with my family. It’s 24-7 and a lot of dedication and can be a lot to handle, but the fact that Sheldon can ride for us and we can enjoy it together, it’s so special.”
Sheldon helps out at the barn and breezes horses in the mornings, while their daughter stays with either his mother or the mother of Brittany’s top assistant, Luis Barajas.
“Their family is like our family now,” Brittany said.
Edy is young yet, but she’s already fearless with the horses.
“She struts down the shed row like she owns the place,” Brittany laughed. “She has no fear, and you have to watch her or she’ll duck right under the webbings. She does have a pony, of course. Sheldon says she’s not going to be a jockey, but you know she already loves to ride!”
Both Brittany and Sheldon’s careers have been booming over the past four years. Sheldon, a four-time leading rider in Maryland, has won 80 or more starts each season, and Brittany has increased her number of winners each year she’s been in business.
She began with 11 wins in 2018, improved to 17 in 2019, and built up to 46 wins and over $1.6 million in earnings in 2020. With 13 wins thus far in 2021, Brittany is on target for her best year yet.
Five-time stakes winner Hello Beautiful has played the starring role in Brittany’s career thus far. The Maryland-bred 4-year-old has won seven of her 14 lifetime starts to earn $384,610, well out-performing her $6,500 purchase price.
“She’s special for many reasons, and she’s really done a lot for us,” Brittany said.
Brittany has come a long way from her beginnings in Peach Bottom, Pa., where her family didn’t have anything to do with horses.
“We lived in Amish country, and they’re farmers, but not horse farmers,” Brittany quipped. “As a young girl, I always wanted to be able to do everything, right? First I wanted to be a ballerina, then to play softball, then to learn an instrument. … It was always something new. But when I started riding horses, that was the one thing that stuck.”
Her primary equine learning came at nearby Breakaway Farm. She was cleaning stalls on weekends by the age of 12, and by 14 she started to learn how to break and gallop the babies.
“It was a good way to learn how to gallop, the babies and I kind of learned together,” Brittany said. “I didn’t really have any formal riding lessons.”
She rode a few amateur jockey races along the way, but Brittany learned she preferred puzzling out the horses from the training side of the industry.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens was the biggest influence on that part of her horse racing education. Learning from the veteran master horseman taught Brittany what questions she needed to be asking to understand her equine charges.
“I still have the ‘Jerkens text hotline,’” she joked. “If I ever have a question or wonder what to do in a specific situation, he’s always willing to help. He’s wonderful.”
Working for Brad Cox in Saratoga sealed the deal in terms of Brittany’s career choice.
“He really intrigued me when he offered me a job, even though I wasn’t sure about making the move up to Saratoga at the time,” said Brittany. “That was the job that made me realize I want to do it, to be a trainer. He left me on my own, he trusted me. He was a good teacher, he’s a good horseman, and he knows how to win races. He’s really good to people, you see so much of his staff stays with him. In this game that says a lot about a person.”
In turn, the thing that says a lot about Brittany is her enduring positive attitude. She doesn’t acknowledge the industry treating her any differently due to her gender, and she is grateful for all the time spent as a nomad assistant trainer traveling around the country.
“Being away from family when I was younger, that’s sort of what molded me into the person I am today,” Brittany said. “It gave me that education I needed to go out on my own. I missed holidays and things with my family, and they don’t quite understand because they’re not horse people. But I wouldn’t trade it.”
In addition, she and Sheldon have learned to work together in harmony, win or lose.
“At the end of the day you have to realize that the rider doesn’t want to mess up,” Brittany explained. “Sheldon will be the first one to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and he’s done way more good for us than bad. It’s one of those things where I’m lucky to have him.”