China Pearls: The Perfect Gift

Published: January 24, 2012 10:45 am EST

Over the years Carman Hie has campaigned some top horses. Omaha Bett, Sal Harbor, Tender Blue, Queen Of Jewels...just to name a few. While the 2011 season was extremely gratifying for him personally thanks to the efforts of O'Brien Award nominated China Pearls

, his reflections reinforce the old adage that it's better to give than to receive.

In 2009, Hie helped select China Pearls from the Canadian Open Yearling Sale. While she wasn't the most impressive yearling on paper, the $13,000 Kadabra filly had impeccable conformation in addition to a family tie well known to Hie: trotting horse Movie Mogul.

"There was breeding there, but it lacked a little production," Hie told Trot Insider. Movie Mogul, he was on the page. I loved racing that horse. I really liked that horse. Little things brought me to [China Pearls] but Movie Mogul was one thing."

Just like Movie Mogul, China Pearls didn't make it to the races at two. Hie noted that she "was sick [with a virus] when we brought her home from the sale and it just hung on most of the winter."

Hie took his time with China Pearls at two, not breaking her until Spring 2010. Her talent would reveal itself in short order.

"By October I thought she was pretty special. Her gait, her manners and her desire were all there," continued Hie. "There was some speed there too, but you know most horses have speed nowadays, it’s just the ones that can carry it and she felt like she could.

"I gave her the month of December off and then started [back] with her in January," continued Hie. "But I had already made up my mind that she was special and paid her into two stakes, the Elegantimage and the Casual Breeze, which were early for one that hadn’t raced."

China Pearls made three qualifying efforts in April before making her pari-mutuel debut on April 28 for owners Hie, Stu Cockshutt of Rockwood, Blake Anthony of Millgrove, Peter Kloepfer of Harley and Ted Murrell of Sharon, Ont. Closing three-wide from eighth at the three-quarter marker, China Pearls finished third just a length and a half off the winner. Two weeks later, Hie used the same come-from-behind tactics and China Pearls was able to break her maiden in ultra-impressive fashion. Nearly 19 lengths off the leader at the half, Hie riled up China Pearls in the last half of the mile for a thrilling 1:58.1 score.

Two weeks later, Hie would try China Pearls in the Ontario Sires Stakes. Making her provincial stakes debut, China Pearls made a costly break behind the gate and spotted the field more than 25 lengths. Miraculously, she finished with a fury and ended up third just beaten by four lengths. In three qualifiers and three races, she had made two breaks. A consummate horsemen, Hie wasn't overly concerned.

"She made break at a qualifier at Mohawk. It was when the horses left the gate and crossed over in front of her," stated Hie. "There was a lot of dirt flying and she started to throw her head and that’s when I put the screen on her over her eyes and that solved that.

"The break in London in the first Sires Stake that was not her fault, that was my fault. I had misjudged the gate and I was trying to catch it. I tried to get her to go too fast too quick and I wasn’t giving her time to get up to speed. That was a driver error and I was the driver."

With just four starts under her belt (or necklace), China Pearls would then step up and face the continent's best trotting fillies - including divisional standout Crys Dream. With Randy Waples now in the bike - as he would be for nearly the remainder of the season - China Pearls finished a solid third in her Elegantimage elimination and qualified for the final. A week later, she'd make another break.

Shifting back to local competition, China Pearls ran into a hot Peach Martini at Georgian Downs for the next OSS Gold event, finishing third in her elimination and fourth in the final. After those Sires Stakes races, China Pearls was nearly unstoppable. She won eight of 11 starts, including the elimination and final of the Canadian Breeders Championship, SBOA Stakes, her first OSS Gold Final and the $300,000 OSS Super Final.

"She had a lot of catching up to do so it just took her a few starts to catch up. Once she caught up she was away."

China Pearls also caught the attention of the harness racing community. In her last nine starts, she was the betting favourite each time she went to the gate and closed her year with a strong 1:54.1 victory at Woodbine on November 25. That victory took China Pearls over the half-million dollar mark in seasonal earnings .

"Her best two races were her last two and especially her last one. It was really impressive, I thought anyway. It was only one-fifth of a second faster than the Super Final, but it just seemed like a much better race – there were older horses in there, they weren’t three-year-old fillies – and she was just really good."

Given how sharp she was at the end of the year, rumours circulated that China Pearls would once again face the Grand Circuit types in the Breeders Crown. While Hie admitted some thought was given to the idea, the cost of supplementing made the move too risky.

"If it would have been after the Super Final I would have done it in a minute, but my aim at that point was the Super Final. I wanted her good for the Super Final and so the supplement wasn’t thought about for very long. You have to finish first or second to make money. If we had finished third we would have lost money so that makes it tough."

The competition will undoubtedly be tougher for China Pearls as Hie prepares the mare for her four-year-old campaign. The Beamsville, Ont. based trainer hopes that he and China Pearls can regain the form that garnered the trotting lass an O'Brien Award nomination against Breeders Crown winner Cedar Dove. When asked if Hie had a plan for China Pearls in 2012, the quick-witted trainer replied that he might not be the one in control.

"What’s the plan she has for me? That’s what I would like to know," laughed Hie. "I’m going to stake her to some fillies and mares races. There’s the Armbro Flight, the Masters at Georgian...there are four or five races, I just hope that she’s on the same plan that I am and we can get to them."

In the short term, Hie plans to set aside his driving suit for something more formal on Saturday night to attend the O'Brien Awards in Mississauga, Ont.

"I’m hoping she wins one more [the O'Brien Award]. We’ve had fun all year and it was great for her to be one of the nominees and then if she wins it, it’s just icing on the cake."

Of all the big wins China Pearls provided him this past season, what Hie savours most is giving his loyal friends and partners of some five decades a stakes-calibre horse.

"What was really gratifying for me was my partners and I have all been friends for quite a few years -- going back to 1970 -- and it was really nice for me to get all of them involved in a horse and have it turn out good," said Hie. "I had horses for Teddy Murrell back to 1970, that’s a long time. Stu Cockshutt, the same. Blake Anthony, it’s around 1975. Peter Kloepfer, he’s kind of the rookie, he’s only been in for around 15 years. They all had the time of their life, they really enjoyed it. That was gratifying to me more than anything; just having those guys around and have a good horse and see them have fun."



as the former caretaker of PEACH MARTINI it was a lot of fun to race againts your PEARL , Ben's and Joe's filly this summer!Im very happy for your O'Brien award she deserved it cuz at the end of the day she was the best.It could've gone to a good man and horseman.well done!!

We enjoyed watching the filly,s success, a good job done by a great trainer and driver. Mary Jane and John Findley

Thank you Mr Hie for showing that our faith in our beloved broodmare ,Pure Prestige (grandam of China Pearls),was affirmed. The best of luck to you and your mare.


Congratulations to you and your partners on a fantastic season with the filly, and best of luck with her this season.

See you at the O'Briens!

Ken Middleton, Jr.

Great to see Carman get some recognition,and success at the top level. Just from being a race fan ,over the last decade or so I've seen how this man logs thousands of miles a month trucking and racing at every track in Ontario. Guys like Carman are the backbone of the industry.

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