By: Stephanie Velarde
Despite already being one of the top 50 jockeys in the country, Sheldon Russell continues to pick up the pace in the racing world. As Colonial Downs’ leading jockey, the ambitious and talented 25 year-old plans to maintain an active career to ultimately win a Grade I title.
His interest and passion for horse racing runs in the family thanks to his father, former Louisiana Downs jockey, Dean Russell. After leaving Louisiana when he was just an infant, Sheldon moved to South Africa and then England where he began his career as a Jockey. When Russell was 16, he would help his father with the horses at his job in Newmarket, Suffolk.
When he was 18, Russell moved to the United States and began working under Michael Dickinson. After nearly a year Dickinson sent him to Palm Meadows training center in Florida, where he was in charge of three horses and got to know Ian Wilkes, assistant to trainer Carl Nafzger. Since then, Russell has since become a leading jockey on the Maryland Circuit, at Pimlico, Laurel and Colonial Downs.
Despite growing up and beginning his racing career in England, Russell admits he prefers riding on American grounds. He states that what he likes most about American races is that they are a faster pace with longer distances. English races are only on turf which tends to affect the horse’s speed and give a different racing experience.
Going on six years racing stateside, Russell has no intention of stopping. He loves the opportunities he has to travel around the country and being involved in big races with big crowds. Last year, Russell raced in one of the biggest races of the season– the Kentucky Derby. Sheldon hopes to keep his career in momentum for at least another 10 years with the thrill of winning as motivation.
This year, Colonial Downs will honor its leading jockey with a commemorative garden gnome that resembles Russell during his $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup win riding Rahystrada in 2011. This will be the first time Russell has had a gnome modeled after him and has received a lot of positive interest from fans.