Point Dume left little doubt of the outcome.

The colt by Into Mischief out of Maya Malibu romped home in the third at Laurel Park on New Year’s Eve, winning the $30,000 maiden claiming race for 2-year-olds by 11 lengths.

With her 118th win in Maryland for the year, trainer Brittany Russell made history, becoming the first woman to lead the state’s annual trainer standings. As is often the case, her husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, was the rider.

It was a banner year all around for Brittany Russell, who finished 2023 with 177 wins in 687 starts for nearly $8 million in purse earnings, all career highs. This was just the 34-year-old’s fifth year training on her own, according to the Maryland Jockey Club, after working in the barns of Brad Cox, Jimmy Jerkens, Ron Moquett and Jonathan Sheppard.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

She also won her first Grade I race — the height of competition in the sport — in April with Doppelganger triumphing in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct as the longest shot in the field. And, just before the close of the year, she won the Grade III Suwannee River Stakes at Gulfstream Park with Full Count Felicia.

The year saw several other women break new ground in the sport of kings, with Jena Antonucci becoming the first woman to train the winner of a Triple Crown race (Arcangelo in the Belmont Stakes) and Linda Rice eclipsing New York’s record for wins in a single year with 165.

Still, Russell doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer. She said she was recently asked if there’s a glass ceiling in the industry for women.

“I don’t feel like that anymore,” she said. “Look, if you get up and work as hard as anybody, the opportunities are there. You’ve just got to show up and do it.”

The Baltimore Banner caught up with Russell, who lives in Clarksville, to talk about her record, her goals for 2024 and the life of a horse racing family.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Trainer Brittany Russell (right), with husband Sheldon, a pro jockey (center), son Rye (left) and daughter Edy (bottom). (Courtesy of the Maryland Jockey Club)

The Baltimore Banner: You indicated in late December that you didn’t know you were on the verge of a milestone. Now that it’s happened and you’ve had some time to sit with it, how do you feel about being the first woman to win the annual training title?

Brittany Russell: It’s really special. We’ve had a couple meet-winning titles. But to do it for the whole year, against everyone, it’s huge; it’s really special. And I’m really proud of the crew. I’m proud of everyone for working so hard and getting this accomplished.

BB: Given how close things were in the standings between you and Jamie Ness, are there some races from the year where you think, “Oh, that was the difference right there”?

BR: Yeah, sometimes we do that [laughs]. Because, when it just gets down to a couple there at the end, you have those races and you’re like, Oh, you should have won them. You do, you think back a little bit to it.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But, honestly, you just have to move on. The result is the result, and you have to move on and focus on the next one.

BB: I was looking at your career earnings, and it looks like one of those stock charts going up, up, up. What has been the key to your success? How have you built it so rapidly?

BR: Well, it would have to start with the clients, because of what they’re sending. We have better horses, we have clients that are game, and they want to win races.

When you look at how it’s gone up, we’ve won some really good races this year — good, good purses. Even in Maryland, allowance races, maiden special weights, all the good-money races, we seem to always have something in those spots, and if they’re running competitively, that’s how it should look, right?

BB: So is it in your view, then, success begets success? People notice you’re winning and say, “I want to send my horses to Brittany Russell”?

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

BR: Honestly, yes. I think that hits the nail on the head. If you’re winning, people notice. The phone is ringing if you’re winning.

And you have to keep the barn full of horses; you have to have the stock. Naturally, you always want to have the improved quality, because that’s the goal, that’s the name of the game, to have the better types of horses. But it’s also the claimers. You don’t want to disregard those horses either, because they’re moneymakers. That’s key.

BB: 2023 also saw the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race in Jena Antonucci. Why do you think training is so dominated by men?

That’s a hard question for me to answer, honestly. I think there’s plenty of women trainers now, and I think there’s a lot of good women trainers now. It’s male dominated, but it’s [sighs]. I don’t know [laughs].

BB: Let me put it another way then. Do you feel like women are making gains?

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

BR: Yes, I do. Maybe there’s more opportunities now. I know plenty of women who are successful in the game. It’s like you said with Jena this year, what a huge thing, history-making as well.

It’s hard for me, right, because as a woman I don’t necessarily look at it like that. I work amongst my peers, and there’s men and there’s women. That’s sort of how I look at it.

Jockey Sheldon Russell aboard Prince of Jericho. (Jerry_Dzierwinski/Courtesy of the Maryland Jockey Club)

BB: Aside from the record, what are some of the things you’ll take with you from 2023? Are there any particular memories that stand out?

BR: Doppelganger winning Carter up in New York, the Grade I. That’s a huge win for us, any win at Grade I. Any graded stakes, those are the races that we’re really focusing on.

And we ended the year with a Grade III win down at Gulfstream with Full Count Felicia. That was a very big deal to get a graded stake win with that filly. There’s a lot of work that goes into it and, some of these horses, it just feels a little sweeter when something like that happens.

I’ve had a lot of good horses through the year that have come in. We have this horse called Prince of Jericho. He ran through the series at Laurel, and we were hoping he might win the Tesio, but he won some good races for us. And he’s just back in training starting 2024. He was really special to us all through 2023. There’s been quite a few.

BB: You guys are a horse racing family, with Sheldon being a jockey. So how does that work in terms of your average day? You guys are going to the track together, I imagine. It’s probably a unique situation for spouses.

BR: It’s really special, actually. All I can say is, life is all about balance. Some days are better than others. Every day is different, and I think that’s kind of what keeps it going.

I have to be somewhere every day. So, if Sheldon has to be at the racetrack on a given day, either Sheldon’s mom helps with the kids; she’s a huge help, she lives with us and she picks the kids up and everything. My assistant at Laurel, his name is Luis Barajas, his mom actually watches the kids for us, too.

Some days Sheldon stays home, because he doesn’t have anything to go in for, which is huge as well. But not many days.

We have a lot at the house, so he has to get the house all sealed up before he goes to the barn in the morning. It starts quite early. He might get on three horses; he might get on eight. It just depends on the day. Busy morning, he might race that afternoon, or it might be a dark day. Then, between the two of us, we get the kids picked up.

Being the trainer, it’s honestly 24/7. He’s become very understanding of that, which is very important. I’m at the barn all morning, but I come home and sometimes it’s like the day’s getting started. I have to keep up with clients and everything. We try to block out some time just for us, just to spend with the kids, which is also very important, because what we do, it can be a mentally draining-type industry.

BB: Oh, I bet.

BR: Especially with both of us doing it. It’s hard to just leave it at the barn because I have to bring it home. But, look, we enjoy it and we love it, and we love doing it together. I think it makes it better that we can do it together.

BB: Is it that much sweeter when your horse is a winner and he’s the rider?

BR: Oh yeah, 100%. And that’s the other part of it, for why it can be even more enjoyable. He gets to know these horses in the morning. You’re around them so much. He puts all the work into them.

So when they find the winner’s circle — you know, we might have had a lot of winners this year, but there’s still something very special. It’s not just another winner, right? You feel them all.

Watch on YouTube

BB: It’s the new year. Obviously all the thoroughbreds have just had a birthday and thoughts will soon turn to the Kentucky Derby trail. Might we see you out there?

BR: We have a runner in New York on Saturday. His name is Regalo. We have a lot of hurdles to get through, but he’s probably the best 3-year-old at this stage I have that’s done the most. So we’ll see how he stacks up against better horses on Saturday. But you never know.

You hope you have something to run out there Derby weekend, even if it’s an undercard race, but a lot can happen day to day. So we’ll see. Hopefully we have something to run.

BB: What are some of your other goals for 2024?

BR: Win another Grade I [laughs]. Honestly. It’s the quality. I’d love to develop one of these 3-year-olds. I have a handful in the barn that we like quite a lot. But they need to develop and go the right direction. It would be super exciting if one of these 3-year-olds could step up, boy or girl, and be that horse.

I’d like to think, if we can win a Grade I, at least we’re doing as good as we were last year [laughs].