Hello Hot Rod at Home in $100K Harrison E. Johnson Memorial

March 16, 2023

Hello Hot Rod breaks his maiden Nov. 13, 2020 at Laurel Park (Maryland Jockey Club)

Maryland Jockey Club Press Release

LAUREL, Md.— Brittany Russell didn’t have to think twice when owner George Sharp reached out a couple months back to ask if the Maryland’s two-time defending trainer of the year had room for one more horse.

It was really cool, actually. George called me and said, ‘Hey I’m thinking of sending you a horse,’ and I said, ‘Please tell me it’s Hot Rod.’ He started laughing and said, ‘Yeah,’” Russell said. “It’s mostly because he’s Maryland-bred and George has a lot of horses. Hot Rod should be here. He should be in Maryland, so that’s primarily why he sent him back.”

Now 5, Hello Hot Rod is entered to make his return to stakes company Saturday in the 35th running of the $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park, one of five stakes worth $450,000 in purses headlined by the $100,000 Private Terms for 3-year-olds and $100,000 Beyond The Wire for 3-year-old fillies.

Also on the 10-race program are a pair of $75,000 stakes for Maryland-bred/sired horses, the six-furlong Not For Love for 4-year-olds and up and seven-furlong Conniver for fillies and mares 4 and older.

First race post time is 12:25 p.m.

Ellen Charles’ Hillwood Stable, Hello Hot Rod’s breeder, won the Johnson for 4-year-olds and up going one mile with Cordmaker in 2019 and 2021. By Mosler out of the Tiznow mare Hello Now, Hello Hot Rod is a half-brother to retired multiple stakes winner Hello Beautiful, who Russell also trained.

Purchased for $10,000 as a yearling, Hello Hot Rod raced four times for co-owners Russell and Dark Horse Racing, the first three at Laurel, where he won back-to-back starts under Russell’s husband, champion jockey Sheldon Russell, in the fall of 2020 before being sent to New York to open his 3-year-old season in the January 2021 Jimmy Winkfield at Aqueduct.

Hello Hot Rod earned his lone stakes victory in the Winkfield and nine days later fetched $335,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky mixed sale and was moved to Midwest-based trainer Shawn Davis. Though he came back to be fourth in the Federico Tesio at historic Pimlico Race Course, Hello Hot Rod raced in Ohio, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas before rejoining Russell in January.

After we sold him I cried for like 24 hours and Sheldon said, ‘Why did you sell that horse?’ We did so well in the sale, but I couldn’t get over it. We did so well with him and he was just so nice to have around,” Russell said. “He’s just a really cool horse. Having him back in the barn, he’s right in the first row of stalls and when you walk in he’s one of the first horses you see. He knows he’s home.”

Hello Hot Rod won two of 12 starts after being sold, successive allowance triumphs last fall at Remington Park, and was off the board in a pair of stakes before returning to Laurel to be third in a one-mile allowance Feb. 12, contested over a muddy and sealed main track. He drew Post 3 in a field of eight for the Johnson and will be ridden by Jorge Vargas Jr.

“He really grew up. He’s always been a real classy, laid-back type and he’s still like that. He’s a little more racy now, though,” Russell said. “When the guys gallop him in the morning he takes a hold. He’s a lot of horse to sit on. He might have been a little more laid back early on when we had him as a 2-year-old, but he’s also figured the game out. He’s seen a lot of places and traveled a lot of miles.”

Sterling Road Stables and LBR Racing Stable’s American d’Oro defeated Hello Hot Rod in the Feb. 12 allowance and cuts back in his first stakes attempt since finishing sixth in Laurel’s Richard W. Small and Robert T. Manfuso to end 2022. Thomas Coulter’s Nimitz Class won the Manfuso and 1 1/16-mile John B. Campbell Feb. 18 at Laurel and returns looking for a third straight stakes victory.

Ournationparade’s last win came in last year’s Maryland Million Classic (Jim McCue)

Morris Kernan Jr., Yo Berbs and Jagger Inc.’s Ournationonparade, winner of the 2022 Maryland Million Classic first off the claim for trainer and co-owner Jamie Ness, will attempt to turn the tables in the Johnson. The 6-year-old gelding ran second in the Campbell and Small and third in the Manfuso and one-mile Jennings Jan. 21.

“He’s run second a couple times, he’ll like the [distance and] he’s doing fine. He’s Maryland-bred so I like to try to run him there,” said Parx-based Ness, who leads Russell in wins, 27-22, at Laurel’s winter meet. “He fires every time and when he gets beat he just gets beat by a better horse that day. I expect the same kind of effort from him again.”

Built Wright Stables’ Double Crown is looking for his first win since a 42-1 upset of he one-mile Kelso (G2) last October at Aqueduct. In his two most recent races, he was third in a one-mile allowance Jan. 30 at Parx and sixth in the Campbell.

“He looked like he was in good position on the backstretch coming up and then nothing. He just flattened out,” owner-trainer Norman ‘Lynn’ Cash said. “He’s not running the best that he’s run. We’ll see. I think he’s a horse that, just like with the Kelso, he kind of came out of the blue and I think that’s him. You keep putting him there and one of these days the race will come back to him and he’ll be there.”

Treasure Trove, also owned and trained by Cash, American Patrol and Rough Sea complete the field.

The Harrison E. Johnson honors the Bowie-based trainer who died at age 45 in the crash of a plane he was piloting from Saratoga to Virginia. A native of Adelphi, Md., his best horse was 1973 Hopeful (G1) winner Gusty O’Shay, named that year’s Maryland-bred 2-year-old champion.

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