Kirkpatrick & Co. Presents In Their Care: Barajas A 'Kind Leader' In Brittany Russell Stable - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Kirkpatrick & Co. Presents In Their Care: Barajas A ‘Kind Leader’ In Brittany Russell Stable

Luis Barajas has been a key part of Brittany Russell’s stable since 2018 (photo courtesy Luis Barajas)

As she prepared to launch her training career, Brittany Russell learned everything she could as an understudy to top-flight conditioners such as Jonathan Sheppard, Brad Cox, Jimmy Jerkens and Ron Moquett. She also kept a close eye on her fellow workers.

Luis Barajas, a groom for Moquett, stood apart from the crowd.

“He was a good horseman from the beginning and he wanted to learn,” Russell said. “He didn't want to just groom forever. We had a conversation and I knew if my business grew, he could grow as well.”

When Russell was ready to strike out on her own, she persuaded Barajas to take a chance on her in 2018. It was just the two of them in the beginning, overseeing five horses in Maryland. She gained insight as she galloped them each morning; he tended to their needs as a groom.

Their combined work ethic and talent has allowed them to come far. Russell, 32, is attaining heights never reached before as a female trainer in Maryland.

Last season, she became only the fourth woman to win a meet in that state when she topped the trainer standings during the Laurel spring stand, following paths blazed by Karen Patty (1992, Pimlico spring), Mary Eppler (2016, Laurel fall) and Linda Rice (2017, Laurel winter). Rice tied Keiron Magee with 27 winners despite starting 77 fewer horses.

Russell followed her Laurel breakthrough by earning the title at Pimlico's Preakness meet. She narrowly missed year-end honors. Claudio Gonzalez showed the way for the sixth consecutive season with 74 victories, one more than Russell and Jamie Ness.

The Pennsylvania native competed primarily in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. She established career highs with 453 starters, 100 wins and $4,373,996 in purse earnings. According to Equibase, her winning percentage has always exceeded 20 percent with her horses cracking the top three more than 50 percent of the time every season.

Multiple stakes winner Hello Beautiful with jockey Sheldon Russell, Luis Barajas and Brittany Russell

Russell traces much of her dramatic growth and success to the day she made Barajas, 33, her first and, for some time, only hire. “He was trustworthy,” she said. “From the beginning, I knew whatever I needed, it was going to get done. I knew right away I could trust the guy. Obviously, I had good reviews from other people.”

She is a good judge of men, period. She married Sheldon Russell, one of Maryland's leading riders, on Aug. 26, 2018. They have two children, Edy, 3, and Rye, 1. Sheldon has been a boon to her operation because he gallops her best horses in the morning. The knowledge he gains contributes to afternoon success.

Still, Sheldon refers to Barajas as “the main man at the barn.”

Barajas grew up on a farm in Mexico and came to the United States in 2008 to pursue a better quality of life. The Russells have made him feel very much at home.

“They are the best people I ever met,” Barajas said. “They are like a part of my family.”

The Russell stable has grown from five horses to more than 100 since 2018 (photo courtesy Luis Barajas)

Russell's operation neared 100 horses last summer as more and more owners were drawn to her. She emphasized that her growth would not have been possible without the charismatic Barajas. Many trainers struggle to attract and keep good hotwalkers and grooms. She does not. That may not sound like much, but it is extremely significant if an operation is to deliver consistently strong results.

“I have grooms who have been in my barn for years and these are his guys,” she said. “He has made my team.”

Russell went on, “He is a kind leader. People like working for him. I have good grooms in the barn and I anticipate they will stay for a long time.”

Barajas credits his success in building a strong team to his ability to read people. “I try to make all of them happy and try to help them so they feel comfortable,” he said. “I have to treat all of them different. I know how to treat all of them.”

Barajas added: “I think that is one of the hardest parts, to work with people. I'm doing great with that. I think that is one of the best points I've got.”

He is quite a horseman as well. “He knows the things I look for. He knows the things that are really important to me,” Russell said. “He's not afraid to say, 'Hey, do you want to do this?' or 'I noticed this.' Those are the people you need when you are overseeing a large number of horses.”

As if all of that is not enough, Barajas comes with an added benefit. His mother, Eduvina Amaro, is often available as a much-needed babysitter.

Tom Pedulla, 2022 recipient of the Walter Haight Award from the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

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