'Getting him back from an injury and running second today was just incredible' Tony Cruz has trained the winners of 12 group one races over the past two seasons but his finest training effort - one which met with the ultimate accolade - came yesterday in defeat. The man who has become synonymous with the unbeaten champion Silent Witness stood at the runner-up's stall after the $14 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby but was happy to welcome back his New Zealand acquisition Russian Pearl after the gelding's amazing second to emerging star Vengeance Of Rain. Experienced racing men saluted 47-year-old Cruz, calling the rehabilitation of Russian Pearl his greatest achievement. But the most glowing compliment came from his retained stable jockey, Felix Coetzee. 'I've been telling anyone who would listen for the past few years that Tony is one helluva horse trainer,' Coetzee said. 'Getting that horse back, from an injury in November, and running second today was just incredible. 'Unbelievable. It has to rank as one of his finest training efforts.' Russian Pearl, winner of the group one Bayer Classic in New Zealand as a three-year-old, was brought to Hong Kong by owner Kam Shing-kan after a successful campaign in Brisbane in May and June last year. Cruz produced the Soviet Star gelding to join an elite group of horses who have won in class one on their Hong Kong debut, when he scored over 1,800 metres at Sha Tin on October 17. Alas, the journey soon foundered on a rocky road as Russian Pearl strained a suspensory ligament in his right front leg when finishing fourth at Happy Valley on November 2. Getting any horse back from a suspensory strain is a good training effort. Moulding them to eventually recapturing their best form is something else again. But to produce an injured horse, first-up after 41/2 months, to finish second in a group one race is one for the ages. Cruz was suitably modest about the accomplishment and was only looking forward. 'We thought this horse would run well today because he's just kept getting better,' the trainer said. 'His trial was good and he came on after it. And since then, each of his gallops has been solid as well. We'll now look to have a rematch with the winner in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.' Coetzee said the only sign that Russian Pearl hadn't raced recently came when he started to get agitated in the starting stalls. 'He was just playing up a bit and missed the start slightly,' said the jockey. 'I had envisaged being more forward on him but missing the start was the end of that plan. But he's worked home very strongly in the straight, you had to be impressed with that effort.' Tony Millard, who won the Derby in his maiden Hong Kong season (2000) with Keen Winner, was satisfied with the third placing of his South African private purchase Sambuca, who had earlier taken the prize as the best-presented horse in the pre-race parade. 'He got shuffled back a little when they came over and eased, and he was a length or two further back than we probably wanted to be,' Millard explained. 'We expected to be in front of the winner in the run, but ended up behind him. He'll go straight into the Queen Elizabeth II Cup now. He wasn't the most expensive horse among them but he's done a good job.' John Size had no complaints about the fourth of High Intelligent, who was left in front when no one else wanted the job. 'He's run well enough and maybe is just coming to the end of it,' Size said. However, the reigning champion trainer admitted his disappointment with the $48 second favourite, Grand Zulu, who laboured home an every-chance sixth. 'The barrier  made no difference because he got across and followed the winner throughout the race,' Size explained. 'I'd been waiting for him to get to 2,000 metres but it hasn't helped him today. 'Looking at his form, his wins in Sydney last year were achieved on very hard tracks, so maybe that's what he wants. Perhaps he's not concentrating and needs the blinkers back on. We'll just have to think about it a bit more.' Grand Zulu's jockey, Douglas Whyte, concurred: 'Little bit disappointing,' he summed up. 'I followed the winner throughout the race and when he quickened he just left me behind. I thought he would do better than that - I guess we'll just have to see if he gets better when he's been here for a while longer.' Derek Cruz was satisfied with the late-closing fifth of the admirable Green Treasure, ridden by Olivier Doleuze. 'He got shuffled back into the fence when three or four wide was the place to be,' Cruz said. 'He didn't get a lot of room with whips in his face and that sort of thing early in the straight. But he ran on well - I'm very happy, he beat some very nice horses home. 'He'll have a short break now and we'll find another race for him in three or four weeks' time. He was still on a rating of 96 going into this race so we're not yet at the stage where we are forced to take on all these top horses again.'