News & Barn notes

Trainer Brittany Russell Prepared For Turf Or An Off Track In Sunday’s $100,000 Tale Of The Cat Stakes

June 23, 2023

With the gloomy, rain-filled forecast for the entire weekend, trainer Brittany Russell isn’t taking any chances with Sunday’s $100,000 Tale of the Cat Stakes.

If the race stays on the grass, rising star Ocean City will represent the Russell stable in the mile and a sixteenth feature for 3-year-olds.

If it’s an off-the-turf event – Friday’s races at Monmouth Park came off the grass because of rain – It’s Viper, listed for now as main track only, will be Russell’s entrant.

“We’re trying to cover ourselves either way,” said the Maryland-based Russell.

It’s Viper, a Maryland-bred son of Super Saver, would come in at the peak of his nine-race career, having won two straight races with a near-miss second prior to that. But this will be his first stakes try.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked of him at two turns,” said Russell. “He’s a horse that seems to be getting better and he appears to be improving at the right time so it looks like a good spot. We thought we’d take a swing in a stakes with him.”

Owned by The Elkstone Group, It’s Viper has won 3-of-5 faces this year, with the two recent wins coming over a 13-day span last month.

“He’s a Maryland-bred so we ran him back fast at Pimlico to knock out his Maryland condition last time and he responded to it,” Russell said. “He came out of it bouncing and asking for more. A year ago he trained okay but he certainly didn’t look like a star. He has really taken a step forward this year in the mornings with the way he trains.”

Russell has yet to run a horse at Monmouth Park this year but won with her only starter at the Jersey Shore track a year ago when Factor In won an allowance optional claimer on July 17.

Much as she is eager to get Ocean City to try stakes company for the first time, she is reluctant to change surfaces with son of American Pharoah, who has won two of his three grass starts in his four-race career.

Ocean City has run just once for Russell after being purchased privately by Golden Lion Racing following a win at Keeneland on April 20. He then won his debut for Russell at Delaware on May 31.

“If it comes off the grass I’ll have to discuss with the owners what they want to do,” she said. “With the form he is in right now I’m not sure I want to change a lot, though he does train well on the dirt.

“He has been nothing but class since we got him and based on the way he has raced on the grass I am hesitant to change it up at this point.”

The fifth running of the Tale of the Cat Stakes, which goes as the fifth race on the 10-race card, has attracted a field of six plus three main track only candidates.