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Russian Pearl heads (NZ) quinella in Hong Kong feature

Russian Pearl holds off Best Gift in The Stewards' Cup.

PHOTO: HKJC

Russian Pearl holds off Best Gift in The Stewards' Cup.  - PHOTO: HKJC
Kiwi-breds Russian Pearl and Best Gift provided much more than a thrilling spectacle in yesterday's $HK8 million Hong Kong Stewards' Cup 1600m HK-1 at Sha Tin. A week out from the National Yearling Sales at Karaka, the result was also a timely piece of advertising in a market where New Zealand-bred horses have been enjoying notable success.

By Soviet Star from the Veloso mare Velinda, Russian Pearl was bred by NZTBA members Courtney & Miranda Howells, and Peter Setchell, and offered by Java Lodge at the 2002 NZ Premier Sale. He sold for the modest price of $37,500, bid by agent Stuart Hale on behalf of Pearl Racing Stables, which raced him from the Woodville stable of Bruce & Stephen Marsh. He didn't race at two, but had a busy three-year-old season, winning five of his 14 starts, notably the Levin Classic 1600m G1, and two Listed Races at Ellerslie and Doomben. A seventh in Cut The Cake's New Zealand Derby and sixth in the Queensland equivalent seemed to indicate that his brilliance was best employed from 1600 to 2000 metres.

And so it's proved. Despite two serious setbacks since his sale to Hong Kong owner Kam Shing Kan in mid-2004, Russian Pearl has compiled an impressive record in top company at that distance range. From just seven Hong Kong starts he has now won three times, and has never finished further back than fourth.

In particular he has been a staunch rival of fellow New Zealand-bred and 2005 World Series Champion Vengeance of Rain. The pair provided another memorable one-two finish in last year's Hong Kong Derby HK-1, then filled first and third placings in the Queen Elizabeth Cup G1, and first and fourth spots in December's Hong Kong Cup G1. Those placed performances and yesterday's win have taken Russian Pearl's stake-earnings past the $HK12 million mark (more than $NZ2 million).

In The Stewards' Cup, the first leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown Series, Russian Pearl was given a beautiful ride by Gerald Mosse, who positioned him midfield then tracked Best Gift into the straight. They then sprinted together to the lead and fought hard to the line, where only a short head separated Russian Pearl from Best Gift, with one-and-three-quarter-lengths back to consistent Australian-bred The Duke.

It was a splendidly tenacious performance from the winner and runner-up, but especially Russian Pearl who has had to recover from a ligament injury in one leg, and then a tendon injury in the other leg. His trainer Tony Cruz said after the race "He's not a very big horse but he is well balanced and he has lots of class. He's like a Mini Cooper with a Porsche engine!" This description could have applied equally well to his damsire, the Jim Campin-bred multiple Australian Group One winner Veloso, also a compact, athletic horse with immense class.

Providing he pulls up well after yesterday's win, Russian Pearl will head for the Hong Kong Gold Cup, the second leg of the Triple Crown, at the end of next month, and then attempt the Dubai Duty Free late in March, the first leg of the Asian Mile Challenge.

Soviet Star's single New Zealand crop, foaled in 2000, has been outstandingly successful. Sixty-one of his 86 foals have been starters and 33 have won. Of these, six (6.9% of foals) are stakeswinners: Russian Pearl and brilliant European Group One-winning miler Starcraft, G3 Stardane, SW Filante Etoile, SW Champion Star and Macau SW Phoenix Gold. In all Soviet Star, who is now twenty-one and stands at Ballylinch Stud in Ireland, has left 30 stakeswinners from 700 foals of racing age.

Russian Pearl's dam Velinda is a winning half-sister to G1 Eastern Joy, leading New Zealand three-year-old filly of 1984-85, and G2 Josette Nicole. The family has had a major resurgence in the past five years thanks to Velinda (also dam of SW Promise Me, by Lord Waverley), Eastern Joy's daughters Pleasure (dam of G1 Piachay) and Indochine (dam of SW Volksini), and Josette Nicole's daughter Martine Michelle, dam of G1 Pernod.

Courtney and Miranda Howells of Ainsley Downs Stud, Te Kauwhata began their association with this family in 1984 when they purchased Velinda's dam Diatrelic as part of a package of mares from Grangewilliam Stud. They are still breeding from Velinda, as well as her half-sisters Dialect and La Carrot, and her daughter Princess Alea (all by Lord Waverley). The Howells sold a Don Tristram-Velinda filly for $110,000 at last year's New Zealand Premier Sale, and she is now in work with Stephen Marsh.

Happy to keep investing in a family that has rewarded their loyalty on the track and in the sale-ring, the Howells have recently purchased a Daggers Drawn filly from Lady Sunshine (Lord Waverley-Velinda) and have retained Velinda's yearling filly by Generous. Velinda's "very, very nice" colt foal by Stravinsky, bred in partnership with Sir Patrick & Lady Hogan, is destined for the 2007 Sydney Easter Sale.

The Ainsley Downs draft for Karaka 2006 includes a "big, strong" Danasinga filly from La Carrot at the Select Sale, and a Generous colt from Princess Alea at the Festival Sale. La Carrot's first runner, Prince of Seville (Prince Ferdinand) won two races in Taranaki last month.

After more than two decades of working with members of the Diatrelic family, Courtney knows their characteristics well. "They're very tough horses, but need sensitive handling because they can be flighty and don't like to be dominated. They're not easy yearlings to prepare because they are lightly fleshed, as Russian Pearl is, but they are consistently tough and honest racehorses."

Best Gift (Bahhare-Shock Attack by Inviting) was bred by Ashburton-based NZTBA members Robert and Jessica Thomas, and taken home unsold from the 2002 New Zealand Select Sale. The Thomases named him Carlisle Bay and gave him four starts in Canterbury for a win and two stakes placings, before taking him to Trentham in October 2003 where he was tenth in Kainui Belle's Wellington Guineas. He was then sold privately to Hong Kong where he has now had 16 starts for four wins, seven placings and well over $HK7 million prizemoney. Although he has won the Sha Tin Trophy HK-3, his best performances to date have been placings, including a terrific third behind champion European mare Ouija Board in last month's Hong Kong Vase 2400m G1.

Best Gift isn't the only current performer adding black type to the family's catalogue page. His year-younger full-brother Hurrah has been a revelation this season, winning the WRC Captain Cook S. G1 and Marton JC Merial Metric Mile G3, and running third in Cog Hill's CJC Churchill S. G3 last spring. Hurrah resumed with a second placing to Kristov over 1400m on 14 January. The siblings' performances have surely earned their dam, herself a stakeswinner, serious consideration for Broodmare of the Year honours.

Thanks as always to Arion Pedigrees for pedigree, performance and statistical data.


- Susan Archer