12/05/2008 12:00AM

Russell Road looks special


Charles Town's 2-year-old sensation Russell Road delivered as hoped for in the West Virginia Futurity last Saturday night, drawing off to an 8 1/2-length victory in an impressive seven-furlong time of 1:26.02.

It was the fifth win in six starts for the colt, who is being hailed as possibly the best 2-year-old ever to compete at the West Virginia track.

As a half-brother to four other Charles Town stakes performers, Russell Road figured to have a fair amount of horsepower.

But the chestnut colt owned by Mark Russell and trained by long-prominent Charles Town horseman James W. Casey has dominated his division with an ease that sets him apart from all the rest.

After missing by a half-length in his debut in a maiden race on Aug. 23, Russell Road blasted his way to a 12 1/2-length score in similar company on Sept. 13.

His only disappointment has been a lost opportunity in the West Virginia Breeders Classics, on Oct. 18, when he was briefly sidelined by a bruised foot.

Russell Road aired by a dozen lengths in his Breeders Classics prep, the Dr. Ernest Benner Stakes, on Sept. 27.

He has won three races within the last five weeks - an allowance score on Oct. 30, followed by the $100,000 Tri-State Futurity on Nov. 8 and $50,000 West Virginia Futurity.

The two futurities, which he took by a combined margin of 16 3/4 lengths, pushed Russell Road's total earnings to $202,530.

Now enjoying some well-earned R & R at his birthplace, Casey's Taylor Mountain Farm near Charles Town, Russell Road is in line for a more ambitious campaign next year.

If all continues to go well, he'll be nominated to the Triple Crown, and aimed for the Preakness.

Russell Road was sired by the now-deceased Pennsylvania stallion Wheaton (by Alydar), who was a half-brother to Storm Cat.

He has built on a remarkable record for his dam, Roberta Grump, who makes up almost the entire breeding operation at her owner Robert Lloyd's 11-acre farm (located on Russell Road) near Berryville, Va.

From 10 foals, Roberta Grump has produced only two colts, and until Russell Road came along her daughters had accounted for all the stakes achievements.

Now 17, Roberta Grump, a daughter of former West Virginia sire Verification, was purchased privately by Lloyd in 1994 from local horsewoman Rene Moore.

At that time she was carrying her first foal, the aptly named Grump's First (by Jeloso), who won 9 of 49 starts and earned $69,006 - then a sizable bankroll for a Charles Town runner.

But the big payoff for Lloyd, a retired federal government employee, has come from breeder's awards earned by the mare's subsequent offspring, all of whom have made their mark at Charles Town.

Roberta Grump's three other stakes winners - Sweet Annuity (1997, Oh Say), Shesanothergrump (1999, Weshaam), and Shesagrumptoo (2003, Luftikus) - have together accounted for nine stakes victories. Along with stakes-placed Natures Annuity (2004, Valiant Nature), their combined purse earnings total nearly $1 million.

For the past several years, Lloyd has had a productive association with retired Virginia businessman Mark Russell, who has campaigned each of Roberta Grump's three latest stakes performers.

The Caseys - James W. Casey and his son James M. Casey - have trained for Russell since 1985, and helped to bring the breeder and owner together.

"Mark and I are a perfect match, since I breed to sell and he breeds to race," said Lloyd.

Roberta Grump has a yearling filly by Luftikus whom Russell is likely to purchase. Her 2008 daughter is by Windsor Castle. Both of those stallions stand at Taylor Mountain Farm.

Lloyd nearly lost the prized mare last spring, when she suffered a twisted intestine a few weeks after conceiving to the cover of Luftikus.

Emergency surgery performed by Dr. Scott Reiners at Mountain View Equine Hospital near Lexington, Va., saved Roberta Grump, although she will not produce a foal in 2009.

Expecting renewed opportunities in Maryland based on the recently approved slots program, Lloyd intends to breed Roberta Grump to a Maryland stallion in 2009. He has not yet chosen the mating.

"A Maryland-sired West Virginia-bred could be extra-valuable," said Lloyd. "And Roberta Grump has gotten her health back just fine. In fact, she looks as good as she's looked in a long time."