Love is all around in Wanganui

It’s nearing that time where the movie Love Actually finds its way onto television screens around the world, but it’s a mare by the same name that is getting Thomas Russell and his partner Pip D’Arcy-Brain excited this festive season.

King Of Hearts (inside) and Black Orlov during their exhibition gallop at Wanganui last Saturday.
King Of Hearts (inside) and Black Orlov during their exhibition gallop at Wanganui last Saturday. Picture: Race Images PN

The Wanganui couple own the 11-year-old Swiss Ace mare and are enjoying plenty of thrills with her two progeny to date – King Of Hearts and Black Orlov.

Bred by Westbury Stud principal Gerry Harvey, Love Actually was initially purchased as a yearling at Karaka by Te Akau Racing's David Ellis for $25,000 and went on to win one and place in one of her eight starts for trainers Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards.

Her racing career was curtailed by injury and she was subsequently offered on gavelhouse.com where she caught the eye of D'Arcy-Brain, whose bid of $4,000 secured the mare.

A date with Novara Park Stud stallion Jakkalberry was quickly organised, with the resulting foal being King Of Hearts, with the couple electing to support local stallion Unusual Suspect for her next mating the following year, resulting in the Black Orlov.

Russell has trained King Of Hearts  to win three of his 15 starts and he has entrusted Black Orlov to good friend and fellow Wanganui trainer Malcolm Hill.

Black Orlov broke through for her maiden win at the second time of asking at Trentham earlier this month, which was a standout day for Russell and D'Arcy-Brain, with King Of Hearts also scoring on the card.

Their success spurred the couple's decision to get Love Actually back in foal this season.

"She is at stud and being served at the moment and we are just waiting to see if she is positive. We went back to Unusual Suspect," Russell said.

King Of Hearts and Black Orlov had an exhibition gallop at Wanganui last Saturday and Russell was pleased with what he saw from the pair.

"They had an exhibition gallop on Saturday and went well and the jockeys were happy," he said.

"King Of Hearts worked nicely this morning, so I am looking forward to Saturday."

The five-year-old gelding was nominated for the Listed Steelform Roofing Group Wanganui Cup (2040m) but looks unlikely to gain a start, so will likely line-up in the Stella Artois 1500m Championship Qualifying Race (1600m) as a consolation.

"It looks like we are not going to get into the Cup, so we will likely run in the mile. It would have been nice to have a run in the local Cup, we think he is going to be a better horse over 2000m," Russell said.

While King Of Hearts will likely miss out on a stakes tilt this weekend, if he continues on the same trajectory he is on, Russell has big plans instore for the gelding.

"We did chuck a nomination in for the Thorndon (Gr.1, 1600m), but he would have to win two races, and one of those would need to be an Open Handicap, to even have a chance of making it. It is a far off dream at this stage," he said.
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