It was a memorable day for Thomas Russell on Friday when he recorded his first training win in a solo capacity at Otaki courtesy of King Of Hearts in the Ribbons Plus (1600m).
The Wanganui horseman had previously won 11 races when training in partnership with Ken Kelso between 2008 and 2010, highlighted by the Group Two victory of Down The Road in the Championship Stakes (2100m) at Ellerslie in 2009.
“Down The Road won the Championship Stakes and he also ran second in the Derby when it was worth $2.2 million,” Russell said.
Russell then returned to a career as a jockey but tragedy struck seven years ago when he suffered a life threatening injury in a trackwork fall, which resulted in him becoming a tetraplegic.
He maintained his love for racing and has been the jockey agent for Leah Hemi, however, a road back to training was paved a couple of years ago when his partner purchased a mare off online auction house gavelhouse.com.
“My partner, Phillipa D’arcy-Brain, bought the mare (Love Actually) on gavelhouse for $400 and we sent her to Jakkalberry. That was our first foray into breeding,” Russell said.
The resulting foal was King Of Hearts, and the couple didn’t have to wait long to see a return on their investment, with the three-year-old gelding picking up a winning cheque at just his second start on Friday.
He finished seventh first-up over 1200m at Wanganui last month and Russell admitted he went into Friday’s race not knowing how he would perform on the testing Heavy11 track conditions.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect on the ground and over a mile because it was a big jump from 1200m first-up,” he said.
“But it was great that he got up, it was a great thrill.”
While co-breeding, co-owning and training the horse was a big thrill for Russell, he was also pleased to get the win with the sole rider on his jockey agent books, Leah Hemi.
“Leah is riding well and she knows the horse,” Russell said.
“Naturally I am going to put her on, being her manager. She rode him very well today, I was very pleased with the ride.”
Russell is unsure what the immediate plans are for King Of Hearts, but a tilt at the Gr.1 Vodafone New Zealand Derby (2400m) in March remains the ultimate goal.
“We have nominated for the Derby just in case and we will see what happens,” he said.
“That’s the dream but we will back off for a couple of weeks and make a plan from there.
“We haven’t got anything concrete in-mind yet.”
While pleased to get back on the board as a trainer, Russell was quick to deflect praise to his partner as well as fellow Wanganui trainer and close friend Raymond Connors.
“I am down as the trainer but a lot of the credit has to go to Phillipa and Raymond Connors, and his track riders. I couldn’t do it without them,” Russell said.