Posted: July 31, 2021

By Tom LaMarra

Hello Beautiful won the sixth stakes of her career and in the process gave jockey Sheldon Russell his 1,500th victory during Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Champions Series (MATCH) action at Pimlico Race Course July 31.

The three MATCH Series stakes at Old Hilltop did not produce upsets but did have an impact on the series standings. The victory in the $100,000 Alma North Stakes by Hello Beautiful put her only 3 points behind undefeated Chub Wagon, the leader of the Filly and Mare Sprint—Dirt division.

Owned by Madaket Stables, Albert Frassetto, Mark Parkinson, K-Mac Stables and Magic City Stables, the 4-year-old Maryland-bred filly by Golden Lad took the early lead from the inside post position and never was threatened in her 3 3/4-length win as the heavy favorite. Hello Beautiful covered the six furlongs in a sharp 1:09.63 on a track rated fast and paid $2.20 to win. Call On Mischief chased in second throughout, while Precious checked in third.

“It feels like sort of fairytale ending,” the Maryland-based Russell said of Hello Beautiful providing him with his 1,500th win. “She is a very special filly who has been with us from the start, so we couldn’t be more happy. She was a little temperamental behind the gate and the inside is not always a great spot, but I was happy after the first quarter-mile. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Russell teamed with agent Marty Leonard to provide Hello Beautiful’s groom, Luis Barajas, with a $1,500 gift. It was a gesture Russell began with $1,000 for his 1,000th winner March 7, 2015.

Hello Beautiful, who now has eight wins in 16 starts and earnings of $464,601, has won all of her races at Laurel Park and Pimlico. Trainer Brittany Russell indicated the filly would continue competing in MATCH Series stakes at Laurel but may take a pass on the next division leg at Colonial Downs Aug. 23.

Chub Wagon, who won the first two legs, leads the division and the overall series with 20 points. Hello Beautiful now has 17 points.

In the $100,000 Challedon Stakes (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint—Dirt division), WSS Racing and G Racing’s Mucho returned to Pimlico and took the lead in the division with a victory. Ridden by Reylu Gutierrez, the 5-year-old Blame horse showed much better early speed from the inside, pushed leading Lebda for more than a half-mile, took over in the lane and pulled away to win by length. Lebda held second, with Whereshetoldmetogo third. The winner paid $7.20.

Mucho was claimed for $80,000 in late 2020 by his current connections. Though he finished second in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes as a 2-year-old, the Challedon was his first stakes victory. His earnings cleared the $500,000 mark with the win at Pimlico.

“He has been improving every time,” said trainer John Ortiz, who is based in Kentucky but currently has horses—including Mucho—in training at Colonial Downs in Virginia. “When he takes to the track in the morning or afternoon, he has his game face on. He has been a little sharper recently and getting out the gate well.”

Mucho now has 13 points in his division, followed by Laki (fourth in the Challedon) with 12. Maryland-based Laki, who made his third MATCH Series start for 2021, has now qualified for bonus money going forward. He is the only horse to have started in all three legs thus far.

GMP Stables, Arnold Bennewith and Cypress Creek Equine’s Harpers First Ride took the lead in the 3-Year-Olds and Up Long—Dirt division with a gate-to-wire score in the $100,000 Deputed Testamony Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. The former claiming horse has now won 12 races—five stakes, including last year’s Deputed Testamony at Laurel—and pushed his earnings to the $699,664.

Harpers First Ride, a 5-year-old Maryland-bred gelding by Paynter, won an allowance test at Pimlico in his return to the Claudio Gonzalez barn after a 10th-place finish in the Grade III Pimlico Special, which he won in 2020 for Gonzalez. With regular rider Angel Cruz aboard, Harpers First Ride dueled with Cordmaker for most the Deputed Testamony before pulling away to win 1 1/2 lengths in 1:49.52 for the distance. He paid $7.20 as the second choice. Magic Michael was second and Cordmaker third.

“He was the speed of the race,” Gonzalez said. “He broke well and Angel made the decision to go. He did a good job. The horse is feeling good right now and he’s going the right way.”

“I’m happy the owners thought of me,” Cruz said. “They said, ‘Do you want to ride him back?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s my big horse.’ I love that horse. He’s a special horse. This horse always tries. Claudio does a great job with him.”

Gonzalez said more MATCH Series events are quite possible for Harpers First Ride. The Deputed Testamony was the second leg in the division, with three of the final four at Laurel, where the gelding has excelled.

Harpers First Ride now has 11 MATCH points, followed by Last Judgment with 10 and Cordmaker with 8.

The MATCH Series, the only one of its kind in racing, began May 14 at Pimlico and will end Dec. 26 at Laurel. The next stop is Colonial Downs, where all four division stakes will be run Aug. 23. There are six legs in each of four divisions.

Owners and trainers will compete for $63,000 in divisional bonuses and the overall MATCH Series champion will net $30,000 in bonuses for its owner and trainer. In addition, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association will pay a $3,000 bonus to the breeder of the top points-earning Maryland-bred and $3,000 for the top points-earning Maryland-sired horse. If the top points-earner is both Maryland-bred and -sired, the breeder would get $6,000.