02/26/2004 12:00AM

John Russell, trainer, dead


ARCADIA, Calif. - Retired trainer John Russell, who trained the champions Susan's Girl and Track Robbery and such major stakes winners as Cool Mood, Effervescing, Intrepid Hero, Majestic Light, and Tri Jet, died Wednesday at his home in Del Mar, Calif. He was 67.

Russell had been fighting stomach cancer for the last six months.

From 1957 to 1995, Russell trained throughout the United States for such prominent owners as Fred Hooper and the Phipps family.

The son of prominent English trainer James Russell, John Russell was born in Lincolnshire, England, in 1936, and emigrated to the United States at 17. He intended to enroll at Stanford but instead became an exercise rider at Tanforan Racetrack, near San Francisco.

After working as an exercise rider in New England and Kentucky - for Ben and Jimmy Jones at Calumet Farm - he began training at 21 for Hooper. After working for the Hooper family and other owners, he moved to Canada in the mid-1960's. He won the 1969 Canadian Oaks with Cool Mood at Woodbine.

A year later, Russell became the private trainer for Hooper, for whom Russell trained Susan's Girl, the winner of the 1972 Kentucky Oaks.

Susan's Girl was the champion 3-year-old filly of 1972 and older filly and mare of 1973 under Russell's care.

"Susan's Girl was a big thing, because he was young and she was staggeringly good," said Richard Cross, a bloodstock agent who worked for Russell from 1978 to 1983 as a groom and then assistant trainer.

Russell began training for the Phipps Family in September 1973. In the mid-1970's, Russell trained such stakes winners as Effervescing and Majestic Light for the Phippses.

Russell trained Track Robbery in the fall of 1982, when she won the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland. She was named champion older filly or mare that year, but Russell gave credit to previous trainer Robert Wheeler.

"He was very patient," Cross said of Russell. "He treated each horse as it came. He was a very good hands-on horseman."

Since his retirement in 1995, Russell was a freelance writer for racing publications, wrote a novel, and served as a board member for two Thoroughbred retirement operations in California: the California Equine Retirement Foundation and Tranquility Farm.

Russell is survived by his wife, Diane, sons Jonathan and Tristan, and six brothers and sisters. Services are pending.