01/23/2006 1:00AM

Russian Pearl wins duel

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Russian Pearl, one of five Tony Cruz-trained runners in the $1.034 million Stewards Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday, outdueled Best Gift to take first prize in the first leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown on Sunday.

Sent off at 7-1, Russian Pearl, a 5-year-old New Zealand-bred son of Soviet Star, prevailed by a short head under Gerald Mosse, getting the mile on good to firm turf in 1:35.10. The Duke was 1 3/4 lengths farther back in third, with Bullish Luck, sluggish early on, closing mildly for eighth, 3 1/2 lengths behind the winner.

Cruz said that Russian Pearl will next race in the Hong Kong Gold Cup, the second leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown, on Feb. 26, and be pointed for the Dubai Duty Free on March 25.

Vengeance of Rain, winner of the Hong Kong Cup, was forced out of the race because of an irregular heartbeat.