With a name like Comic Set it’s little wonder that there’s a funny story associated with the travels of the eight-year-old gelding which went “missing” after a short but unsuccessful stint in Hong Kong.
Illowra Stud’s Meredith and Nigel Berry bred the son of Reset out of their broodmare Riddles (Distorted Humor) and after two wins from five starts and a third in the Group 3 Phar Lap stakes at Rosehill, Hong Kong came knocking with a big offer.
The Berrys accepted the offer for the Mick Kent trained gelding but the deal was that the horse would return to their Nagambie farm once his racing career was over.
After showing little in five barrier trials and then a last at Sha Tin on debut, Caspar Fownes sacked Comic Set, which raced in Hong Kong as Royal Prince, after that one race in July of 2018.
But instead of flying directly back to Australia to be united with the Berrys, the gelding was forced to quarantine in New Zealand because of an equine disease that prohibited the horse from being flown directly home.
Not only did Comic Set quarantine in New Zealand but he also resumed his racing career in November of 2019 and at this first race did exactly what he did on debut in Hong Kong – finished 12 of 12.
Kiwi trainers Jenny and Bob Vance preserved with the gelding, giving him 12 starts for a best effort of a second and third – before his career ended in January this year.
Once the Berrys finally tracked their horse down, he was flown to Australia where he started back with Kent at Cranbourne who has given Comic Set two starts for a first up second at Geelong in July and then a fourth at Sandown on his eighth birthday. He is now having a spell.
In line with his name, Meredith can see the humour in finally getting their lost horse back to Australia and the bonus of having him racing.
“One of the things was that when we sold him was that he had to come back to us,” she said.
“He went over but just didn’t settle and was there for nearly two years and he seemed to do a lot of swimming. I study the track records and you can follow their work.
“It was at the time when there was a horse virus in China which was transmittable to humans so the Agriculture Department said no horses were to come back here. They had to quarantine in New Zealand first.”
Meredith said she contacted Fownes in Hong Kong to find out what had happened to the horse which was supposed to be coming back to Australia and he said the gelding was waiting for a plane to get to New Zealand.
She said the horse just sort of disappeared and they were hoping that he had gone to New Zealand.
“I was wondering who we could contact and then my husband saw he was racing in New Zealand,” Meredith said.
“It turned out that people we knew also knew the trainer and so we got quite friendly over the phone and followed him while he was there and then he has come back to us finally which is lovely.”
While in New Zealand the gelding raced under his Hong Kong name Royal Prince.
Meredith said Comic Set hadn’t repeated his Australian form in Hong Kong or New Zealand, but seemed to be happy when he returned home.
She said they paid for the gelding to be flown back from New Zealand.
The Berrys breed their own horses to race and have had plenty of success with the progeny of their broodmare Princess Regina (Zabeel x Princess Lily).
Four of the six to race are all winners, including Za Za Zoom (Strategic; four wins), Oncidium Ruler (Strategic; five wins), Royal Order (Commands; four wins) and Royal Crown (Hemet; five wins).
The talented stayer Royal Crown is just back in work with Kent and is already a listed winner of the MRC Galilee Series Handicap (2400m). The five-year-old finished his last campaign with victory in the Victorian Gold Stayers (2412m) and resumed at Sandown last Saturday when was unplaced over 1800m. The gelding holds a nomination for the Melbourne Cup.
Oncidium Ruler, a winner of $385,950 in prize money, is returning to the Berry’s farm after being retired and then becoming an eventer.
The Berrys race their horses with friends, as well as some of Nigel Berry’s doctor colleagues.
“We also have Royal Crown’s full brother, The Claimant (Helmet), who hasn’t raced yet and he is home here for the spring and will go back for the autumn,” Meredith said.
“Some of the owners are friends we first met when went to Mick’s (Kent) and it’s been really good fun.
“We have another little mare called Royelle but she is very small by Dundeel but she has a good finish.”
As well as Comic Set, the Berrys have bred three out of the mare broodmare Riddles – Golden Twist (Golden Snake) and Forty Nine Riddles (Lago Delight) and are both winners.
“We have the Zabeel line through Princess Regina who we have had most of them with Mick,” Meredith said.
Unfortunately Riddles died giving birth to Comic Set. The Berrys also like the breeding line of Forty Niner (USA) through his son Distorted Humor (Danzig’s Beauty).
Meredith said Comic Set’s half-sister Forty Nine Riddles was a magnificent physical type but has a difficult temperament.
“Despite being a difficult horse to float she did win three races, including the Wagga Queen of the Southern Handicap.
“We put her to Reset and have a nice 2018 gelding, Nine Set All, who has been broken in and has had a good pre-training. He is back at the farm for the spring before heading to Mick Kent.”
Meredith said the nine-year-old Forty Nine Riddles also has a nice yearling filly by Highland Reel and is returning to the stallion this season.
Princess Regina’s Za Za Zoom is the dam of Passenten (Epaulette) and an unnamed two-year-old So You Think colt. And Princess Regina (Zabeel x Princess Lily) has a yearling filly by Palentino and has been served this season by Ghaiyyath.
The Berrys also have two other Zabeel mares – Carmenes and Omit.
Caremenes has a Needs Further filly foal and is also booked to Highland Rule, while Omit has an unraced three-year-old colt by Teofilo that is currently spelling after having a preparation with Kent.
Omit, which was bred by Sir Michael Fay and Sir Patrick and Lady Hogan, raced only once and for Lloyd Williams.
The mare is due to foal to Dandino and has a booking with Russian Camelot.
Another of their mares Keep Courting (Keep the Faith x Court Swinging) has produced her first foal, a colt by Impending.
Meredith said breeders in Victoria were lucky to have some nice middle distance and staying stallions to choose from.
The Berrys breed about four or five every year and often sell the shares through trainers but there is a lot of repeat business coming from previous or current owners.
And because they bred stayers, Meredith said it’s not commercial to go to the sales although they did once but quickly realised it was better to keep them to race with friends.
The Berrys have owned and operated Illowra Stud for about 10 years after previously having a small block at Plenty which she says is not so rural any more.