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Cruz becomes third Hong Kong trainer to reach 1,400 wins, Moreira rides four

May 24, 2022, 7:06:50 AM

Etching his name deeper into Hong Kong racing lore, Tony Cruz is only the third trainer to prepare 1,400 winners or more in the jurisdiction after the legendary figure joined John Moore and John Size in a select band with Circuit Nine’s success at Sha Tin on Sunday (22 May).

Etching his name deeper into Hong Kong racing lore, Tony Cruz is only the third trainer to prepare 1,400 winners or more in the jurisdiction after the legendary figure joined John Moore and John Size in a select band with Circuit Nine’s success at Sha Tin on Sunday (22 May).

Bolstering his reputation as Hong Kong’s greatest local horseman, Cruz reached the landmark in perfect fashion as his former apprentice Matthew Chadwick piloted unbeaten Circuit Nine to success in a race named in honour of one of Cruz’s many champions – the Pakistan Star Plate (1200m) for Griffins.

Taking his tally of combined winners as a trainer and jockey to 2,347 (1,401 as a trainer, 946 as a jockey) with a double, Cruz remains a towering figure on the Hong Kong racing landscape as a six-time champion rider and dual champion trainer. Only Moore (1,735) and Size (1,404) have saddled more winners in a relentlessly competitive environment.

“It’s always an achievement. I’m hopefully expecting to break some records in Hong Kong and make some history, too,” Cruz, 65, said after Circuit Nine’s success. “If you count the amount of winners I’ve had in Hong Kong as a jockey and trainer, it would be 2,346 – but I’ve been here the longest, too.

“Racing is part of my life. I love doing this business – it’s the only thing I know. Circuit Nine was the raging 1.2 favourite, so I expected him to win.”

The son of Johnny Cruz, an esteemed rider during Hong Kong’s amateur racing days, Cruz started his association with the Hong Kong Jockey Club in 1972, when he was among the first intake of jockeys to the Hong Kong Jockey Club Apprentice Jockeys’ School.

With 56 victories this season after Five G Patch’s victory in the Class 3 Exultant Handicap (2000m) – another race celebrating one of his former champions – Cruz trails only Frankie Lor (74) and John Size (74) in the battle for the 2021/22 trainers’ championship.

Cordyceps Six completed a meteoric rise from restricted grades to G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m) triumph for Richard Gibson and Alexis Badel with a narrow win over Nervous Witness as the younger brigade prevailed over Hong Kong’s established sprinters.

Rated 60 at the start of the season, the Star Turn three-year-old has surged through the grades, starting with a Class 4 win in September to reach 100 in the handicap before Sunday’s career-best performance. He now boasts six wins and four minor placings from 12 starts with earnings of more than HK$9 million, a figure boosted by a Top-Up Bonus of HK$500,000.

“It’s very rare that three-year-olds do the job at this time. As a stable, we’re very proud of our big-race record,” Gibson, handler of champion sprinter Wellington, said. “It was a wonderful ride from Alexis and I’ve got a special word for my staff because this horse was very tricky before the race.

“He ‘washes’ out in the paddock and they did a really good job today. He was a bit calmer than in his previous start so a big high-five to the guys. It’s pretty rare for a top racehorse to be so ‘washed’ out pre-race.

“He gets very upset before a race and it’s only when he gets out on the track that he starts to relax better. Alexis said he didn’t get the best of track runs in the traffic. I thought we came up to Nervous Witness very easily but it took a lot to get past him.”

Badel, who has partnered Wellington to two G1 triumphs this season, was impressed with the youngster.

“We know how important it is in handicap races to carry a bottom weight when you have a talented and young, progressive horse like this – it helps a lot,” Badel said. “He certainly did a great job, he responded very well in the straight and he fought very hard through the line.

“He did an amazing job to win the race. He’s certainly a good horse.”

Joao Moreira seized the upper hand in his rivalry with Zac Purton for the jockeys’ championship, extending his lead to 119-112 with a quartet – Bundle Of Charm, Stunning Impact, Beauty Live and Five G Patch.

Size briefly reclaimed the trainers’ championship lead from Lor with Bundle of Charm’s facile win under in the Class 4 Makarpura Star Handicap (1200m) before David Hayes-trained Wide Blue Yonder overcame barrier 13 to land the second section of the Class 4 Helene Super Star Handicap (1400m) under Blake Shinn.

Shinn continued his stunning form – the Australian has posted two doubles and a treble across the past three meetings – when Francis Lui’s Star Brite claimed the Class 3 River Verdon Handicap (1200m).

“Life’s good, I’m riding well and I’m feeling good,” Shinn said, summarising his recent run, before adding the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) aboard Douglas Whyte’s Russian Emperor to an imposing haul.

Moreira upped the ante in the jockeys’ championship when Paul O’Sullivan’s Stunning Impact broke through in the first section of the Class 4 Blazing Speed Handicap (1400m) before teaming with Frankie Lor’s Beauty Live in the Class 3 Indigenous Handicap (1400m).

A son of Shamus Award, Beauty Live has won four of seven starts this season.

Ricky Yiu’s Precise Express snared the Class 3 Viva Pataca Handicap (1600m) under Derek Leung after Dylan Mo posted his 100th winner in Hong Kong when Me Tsui’s Super Axiom led all the way to snare the Class 4 Precision Handicap (1000m).

“Very big thanks to the Hong Kong Jockey Club for giving me a chance and also big thanks to Me Tsui for giving me a lot of support,” Mo said. “I’m very grateful.”

Hong Kong racing continues at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (25 May).