Pearces plotting Divine repeat

7 min read
Three years ago, Princeton Stud's Craig and Kath Pearce won the G1 Newmarket with The Quarterback and are looking to repeat history with Divine Quality on Saturday,

Princeton Stud's Craig and Kath Pearce know what it takes to cause an upset in Australia's greatest sprinting handicap, the G1 Newmarket Hcp, and will be looking to do just that with Divine Quality (Sepoy) in Saturday's $1.25m race at Flemington.

Three years ago, the Pearces' grand sprinter The Quarterback (Street Boss {USA}) charged home over Black Heart Bart (Blackfriars) and Chautauqua (Encosta de Lago) to record a memorable win in the famous sprint.

It was a significant success not only for Princeton Stud, whose pink and white colours The Quarterback carried to victory, but for trainer Robbie Griffiths, who tasted his first-ever success at Group 1 level.

Griffiths has been a significant supporter of the Pearces as they have built Princeton Stud, based at Moorooduc, south-east of Melbourne, to become a significant breeding operation over the past decade.

Craig Pearce with Beau Mertens and Robbie Griffiths

"We have some amazing memories of that day," Craig Pearce told TDN AusNZ. "He was an outside chance, around the $21 mark. He's a horse who had showed he can reel off the sectionals to match it with the best. He's probably one of the only horses that you could say has gone past Chautauqua twice."

"We knew that he was capable and he carried 52kg that day and he was able to get the job done. We are just hoping Divine Quality can run in the same mould in the same colours."

Pink and white again

Divine Quality also has 52kg in Saturday's race, but while The Quarterback overcame eight rivals, Divine Quality faces 21, the biggest Newmarket field in seven years.

"It’s a Newmarket, we just hope she runs a good race. Being a mare, it would be fantastic for our breeding business if she could run top four," he said.

"It’s a time-honoured race and there are no expectations for us to be running top four, but if she runs up to her Furphy Sprint race in the spring, she’ll be in it up to her ear."

Divine Quality has shown a love for the Flemington straight, winning there twice in her career and missing a place just once in her four starts at the 1200m.

Divine Quality winning the G3 Furphy Sprint

That was last start in the weight-for-age G1 Lightning S. where Pearce said she settled too close to the pace before finishing eighth, beaten only 2.65l.

"There are no expectations for us to be running top four, but if she runs up to her Furphy Sprint race in the spring, she’ll be in it up to her ear." Craig Pearce

Pearce said this race looked much more suitable under handicap conditions and given her aptitude in straight races, the Newmarket was always her major goal.

"We've targeted these races because of that. She can go around the bend, but she has had her issues in the past. She's a horse that ties up a lot and she's had some feet problems too. We think that we've got all of that right. We certainly had it right in the spring," he said.

"We try to keep her fresh, because she runs her best races fresh and she does love the straight."

Swept up in Sepoys

When Pearce arrived at the 2015 Magic Millions, the sales ring was abuzz with hype about the first-season crop of Darley's Sepoy.

"We looked at nearly all the Sepoys. To be honest with you, I'm still surprised he has not kicked in the way that everybody thought he would, given his breeding was superb and he was such a great 2-year-old," Pearce said.

Divine Quality's sire Sepoy

He purchased Divine Quality for $185,000 from the draft of Woodside Park on behalf of her breeders at Uluru Stud.

His intention was to give her plenty of time to develop and hopefully, she would be good enough to join Princeton Stud's broodmare band.

"As a yearling, she came in here unmuscled and we knew that she was going to take a bit of time. I didn’t care about that. I'm not really one to breaking them in to run as 2-year-olds, I'm in it for the long game," Pearce said.

"We didn’t tick her away until she was three and she's been able to do a relatively good job for us so far. Winning a Group 3 in the spring has set her value alight and she should go on to be a good broodmare in the future."

Divine Quality as a yearling.

So much taken was Pearce by Divine Quality's wins at her first two starts he went to the 2017 National Broodmare Sale and bought her dam Nun Faster (Fastnet Rock) in foal to Vancouver for $180,000.

Unfortunately for the Pearces, she only produced one foal for them, a filly by Written Tycoon born last spring. Nun Faster died earlier this year.

"Unfortunately she succumbed to some illness in her sesamoids," he said. "We've got the filly at home. She's a cracker, an absolute cracker. She was perfect."

The arrival of that filly means that there is no guarantee that Pearce will keep Divine Quality after she finishes her career.

"I'll be definitely keeping the filly on the ground at the moment. We will still have something from the family one way or another," he said.

The band

Pearce keeps 14 broodmares at Princeton Stud, including one in ownership with Glastonbury Farm's Duncan Grimley, who he usually sells through at the major sales.

Half of those mares raced in Pearce's colours, while the others were picked up either post-racing or at broodmare sales.

Among them is Pride Rock (Fastnet Rock), the sister to Group 1 winner Lone Rock, from the family of the legendary mare Procrastinate. Her first filly, by Pride of Dubai, goes through the ring as Lot 194 for Glastonbury at the upcoming Inglis Easter Yearling Sale.

"I am hoping that the filly will do a good job in Sydney. I'm hearing that the best of the Pride of Dubais are going through that sale," Pearce said.

A So You Think (NZ) colt out of another of Pearce's mares, Commanding Secret (Commands), the full sister to Group 1 winner Appearance, sold for $150,000 on the Gold Coast, while he is also selling in Melbourne and Adelaide this season,

The importance of good help

Pearce said the assistance of Grimley as well as bloodstock agent Peter Ford has been invaluable in building the business. He said Griffiths has also been a constant support, advising him in bloodstock while he has also been working closely with leading syndicator Brad Spicer when it comes to sourcing quality fillies from the sales.

"The number one goal is to buy fillies as yearlings and try and race them. Hopefully they can get a city win somewhere. It gives me the impetus to keep the horse and follow them into the broodmare career," he said.

"If one of the fillies doesn’t produce what we need them to on the racetrack, we move them on and then try and buy something through the broodmare sales."

"Our bloodstock is probably as good as it’s been in a long time. We've got some really nice fillies and mares running around at the moment that should go and become part of the band."

But there are no plans on extending the size of Princeton Stud's operations. Pearce said the 55 acres he has is perfect for maintaining his dozen or so mares plus agistment for Griffiths' racehorses.