Hong Kong racegoers were left grasping for superlatives after former New Zealand galloper Russian Pearl (NZ) (Soviet Star) scored a brilliant debut win at Sha Tin on Sunday night.
In a daring move, trainer Tony Cruz stepped the former Bruce and Stephen Marsh-trained gelding out for his first start in the 1800 metre Lady's Purse. The company was strong in the class one $HK1.6 million event, but Russian Pearl produced a devastating finish to come from second-last on the turn and score in record time.
One New Zealander with a firm focus on the Hong Kong action was Cambridge bloodstock agent Stuart Hale, who selected Russian Pearl from the Karaka sale-ring and manages local affairs for the Pearl Racing string of Hong Kong-based Garry Kam.
'Tony told me the horse was only half fit and now he's wondering what he'll be capable of fully fit,' said Hale this morning. 'They're now looking at one of the local spots in the Hong Kong International Cup in December and beyond that Tony says he could have the world at his feet.'
Russian Pearl had his last start from the Marsh stable when he finished sixth in the Queensland Derby. Before that he had won the 2200 metre Rough Habit Plate at Doomben and as a pre-Christmas three-year-old had taken the Gr. 1 Bayer Classic (1600m) and the ARC Bonecrusher Stakes (2000m).
'We had him sold for a New Zealand record price for a gelding to Dubai but his international rating wasn't high enough,' Hale said. 'Garry also turned down two firms offers of $1.2 million, but after what he did last night it looks like he made the right call.'
Russian Pearl outguns Agility in the Ladies' Purse
Russian Pearl, who started at odds of 35-to-one in Hong Kong and was more fancied at $11.70 on the New Zealand TAB, was given a cosy run at the rear of the field by Feliz Coetzee. The in-form jockey, who combined with Cruz for a winning treble on the night, showed admirable patience to wait until the field had straightened before making his move. The response was enormous as Russian Pearl weaved through the field and then unleashed a brilliant final sprint.
The Coetzee-Cruz combination also led home a Kiwi trifecta when Split Seconds (NZ) (Star Way) beat Millennium Spirit (NZ) (Defensive Play) and the winner's Garry Kam-owned stablemate Nasa Pearl (NZ) (Centaine). Other New Zealand-bred winners on the night were Peach Blossom (NZ) (Centaine) and Fashion Jewellery (NZ) (Entrepreneur).