Mare has Won Five of Seven Starts Since Move to Trainer’s Barn
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – A few weeks after making history as the first woman to capture a Maryland seasonal training title, Brittany Russell will send one of her emerging stars, Full Count Felicia, into the $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational (G2) Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Full Count Felicia drew Post 5 in the full field of 12 in the 1 1/6 miles Filly & Mare Turf, which will go off prior to the sixth running of the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and the eighth renewal of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) presented by Baccarat on dirt. That trio comprise the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series and headline a blockbuster 13-race program featuring seven graded stakes worth $5.2 million in purses.
In addition to the top prize money for the winner, the Filly & Mare Turf is an automatic qualifier for the Qatar Nassau Stakes (G1) at England’s Goodwood Racecourse in late July. The winner will get an automatic entry into the race and a $25,000 stipend for travel.
First race post time is 11 a.m. EST. The Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf will go off as Race 10, with a scheduled post time of 3:45 p.m. EST. NBC will provide live national television coverage from 4:30 to 6 p.m. EST.
In her fourth full season of training, Russell secured the year-end Maryland title with 118 wins, 15 in stakes, ending Claudio Gonzalez’ six-year run at the top of the trainers’ standings. Overall, Russell recorded career bests in victories (177) and purse earnings ($7,996,867), ranking 11th nationally in victories and 16th in earnings. The Peach Bottom, Pa. native started horses at 18 tracks in 2023 and finished the year with a win percentage of 26 while her runners finished in the top three at a 60 percent clip.
Gold Square LLC moved Full Count Felicia to Russell’s care in the summer of 2022. She arrived with an 0-for-7 record but had showed promise, hitting the board three times while mainly running in sprints in New York. On the suggestion of her husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, who got on the now 5-year-old mare during morning training, Russell decided to try her in two-turn races.
“I could see why she was sprinted early on in her career,” Russell said. “Day to day, she’s a very aggressive-type training filly. Very strongly gallops. She’s a very good workhorse, even on the dirt. She’ll go down there as fast as you want. You kind of second-guess probably stretching a horse out like that, especially too early. Sheldon had breezed her in the morning, and I was just getting feedback that, ‘Look, the gallop outs are really good. Run her long.’”
That is what she did. Full Count Felicia promptly broke her maiden at a mile at Colonial Downs, was sixth of 10, beaten 4 ½ lengths, in the Virginia Oaks, then completed her season by cruising to a first-level allowance win. The daughter of War Front returned to the races last August, won an optional claimer and crushed the field in Pimlico’s All Along at 1 1/8 miles in mid-September. That success led to a cross-country trip to Santa Anita Park for the Goldikova (G2) on the Breeders’ Cup weekend. She was fourth, missing third by a head.
“I think we threw a lot at her,” Russell said. “She had run well at Pimlico when she won the stake, but any time you put a horse on a plane, you take it out of its atmosphere. There were a lot of changes that week, and I think she handled everything fine. She ran fine. We kind of felt like, ‘Let’s just kind of get her home and regroup.’”
The next target was the Suwanee River (G3) Dec. 30 at Gulfstream Park. Under champion jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., she got a rail trip, and despite being steadied once, won the one-mile stake by three-quarters of a length over Accomplished Girl as the even-money favorite.
“You kind of need to do that probably to get the invite to go into this race,” Russell said, “but after she came back from California we were just kind of listening to her, letting her tell us what she was ready for. Honestly, if we didn’t run her in the Suwanee she was just going to go over the top. She needed the race. It all worked out. She won the race and she got herself a good run in before this one. It’s been a good way to get her there.”
Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano will take over for Ortiz, who had another commitment. Castellano had a very strong bounce-back 2023 season, winning the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Belmont Stakes (G1). He was up for Full Count Felicia’s four-furlong dirt breeze in 48.50 seconds on Jan. 18 at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County where Russell has a string this winter.
“We’re happy to have Javier,” she said. “He came out and worked her and he liked her a lot. He was really happy with her. She breezed well, she looked good and she came out of it in good shape. That’s all we can ask for.”
Full Count Felicia, who is out of the Galileo mare Claire de Lune, has shown she can adjust to the dynamics of her races.
“That’s a good thing about this filly, she’s versatile,” Russell said. “If there’s no pace she can kind of go and take control. I haven’t looked at it necessarily where we’re going to try and be in this group yet, but she’s versatile.
“The last time I said to Irad, ‘The good thing about this filly is you can turn her off. She’s going to be on the engine if you need her to be, but she’ll turn off, too, if you’ve got to sit her in behind,’” she added. “As long as she listens to the rider we’ll be in good shape.”
Full Count Felicia has a win in her lone try at 1 1/16 miles and Russell said she thinks the mare can be effective again in what will be a tough assignment.
“In a race like this, I don’t necessarily think it’s the distance that’s a concern,” she said. “There’s going be better quality in here, too. Yeah, she just won a Grade 3, but if you look at some of these fillies that are going to show up next weekend she’s going to have to step up.”
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