It might be the new Bluetooth earpiece transmitting positive vibes to his stable, but whatever it is, there’s no denying that suddenly life’s a bowl of cherries without the pits for Tony Cruz with winners coming thick and fast for the trainer who’s making King Midas look like a pauper. And he’s basking in all of this with great humour. Does he know it’s humour is something else as Tony seems to glide around Tonyland.
Sure, John Size has this season’s Trainers title all wrapped up and ready to go and a pretty awesome army of sprinters still to hit their stride in his stable. But in all the column inches devoted to why Size matters, Hong Kong racing’s favourite son’s current inside run has been somewhat overlooked. So has the entertainment value he has brought to racing this season.
Cruzy, The Putha Man, Tony, Legend- whatever one calls him, is a character- a champion local jockey, some would say the best jockey in the world when riding in the UK and Europe against names like Stevie Cauthen, Pat Eddery, Willie Carson, Lester Piggott, Brent Thomson, Joe Mercer, Frankie Dettori etc and who looked death in the face following an almost fatal fall when he saw “the white light” during the operation on his shattered face before he heard wife Pauline calling him back. His time wasn’t up.
Deeply religious and refreshingly outspoken, Tony Cruz marches to the beat of his own drum-probably a cross between Gene Krupa, John Bonham and Animal- and doesn’t hold back on calling things as he sees them.
He’s taken to task the HKJC whenever he thinks their stewards or handicappers have goofed. And no one does that. But the powerful club goes along for the ride taking everything he gives with a wry smile. It’s Tony Cruz being Tony Cruz.
After the memorable win of Pakistan Star, he thanked everyone adding, “even the handicapper”. Handicapper Nigel Gray returned serve by saying something to the effect that Pakistan Star is not the only quirky and stubborn one in the stable.
That very successful Champions Day where he was very much to the fore by scoring wins with Time Warp and Pakistan Star, still didn’t stop him taking the club to task for what he saw as a track bias.
For a while there he became the track curator and gave a lecture on how a track should be maintained if there’s been no rain. This wasn’t Cruzy trying to be a smart arse. It was a professional horseman completely confident in himself and being a rebel with a very definite cause.
To those who have known him since his days as the most gifted apprentice from the first group of young riders to be introduced to Hong Kong racing that included Eddie Lo, Tony Cruz is equal parts young Elvis, actor George Chakiris from “West Side Story” and the unhinged Tony Montana character from “Scarface”.
He often says what others are thinking, but who prefer to err on the side of caution. Not Tony Cruz. He has fired problem trainers, he has locked out riders from being on his horses, has been extremely loyal to longtime friends like Gerald Mosse and Douglas Whyte whose best days in the saddle might be behind them, and has always thrown his support behind local jockeys. As he’s always said, “Man, I’m a local boy, man, so of course I must support the local jockeys by giving them winning rides whenever possible”.
If there was an award for Most Popular Hong Kong Racing Personality, Tony Cruz would have a lock on it. Despite possibly being as stubborn and unpredictable as his equine foil Pakistan Star, the man commands respect. He’s the trainer they all want to ride for as he knows when his horses are ready and, like John Size, leaves most decisions to the navigation skills of the jockey. If he says, “Just be cool, man”, which he’s done, one chills. Who needs the added pressure?
The partnership that’s been only quite recently forged between Tony Cruz and Zac Purton had to happen. It’s taken a while to materialise, but being a very good judge of what makes someone an exceptional rider, he’s no doubt seen this in the Zac Attack and respects the Aussie’s take-no-prisoners approach on and off the track. Yes, he also uses Joao Moreira, but all his best horses are now regular rides for Zac Purton.
With this season’s Jockey Premiership looking like coming down to the wire, while John Size will no doubt throw his massive horsepower behind the Magic Man, Cruzy will be backing the Zac Attack, certainly when it comes to providing him with winning rides at Shatin.
Looking at the card for tonight’s races, one can see how the teams are starting to split up with Joao Moreira having his best chances on rides from the stables of Size and Frankie Lor with the King Of The Valley- Caspar Fownes- providing Zac with a number of rides, at least two of which have strong winning chances.
With night racing at Happy Valley seldom being Moreira’s happy hunting grounds, don’t be surprised to see another lethal Zac Attack launched of similar proportions to the five winners he rode at the last meeting at the city track.
The way the HKJC has framed the races, don’t be surprised if the last race sees another clash between the two protagonists with the Magic Man winning a tight finish and the Zac Attack being pretty unfairly fined $5,000 for lodging a “frivolous objection”.
Let’s leave the word “frivolous” with that. Getting into it would be as petty as the $5k fine.
LOOKING OUT FOR THE ODDS JOB…
Of course Hong Kong racing fans faithfully follow Joao Moreira and Zac Purton for a reason: They’re always around the winners. But when not able to pile on hundreds of thousands, it’s all about finding “value” jockeys.
This season, the value mantle has been handed from Derek Leung to Keith Yeung and a few months ago to Alberto Sanna after him bringing in a 100 to 1 winner followed by a number of others at good odds.
On Sunday at Shatin, a group of loyal local race goers told us about Hong Kong’s racing’s latest Oddjob: Vincent Ho.
Another underrated local jockey who was once indentured to the Caspar Fownes yard and travels under the radar, Vincent Ho rode a double last Wednesday. The first of these- Happy sound- paid $260 whereas the second of his winners- All Best Friends- paid a whopping $560.
On Sunday at Sha Tin where most of the fancied runners saluted and many were chilling on The Love Boat, the smooth sailing hit a huge iceberg when Oddball struck. This was when Vincent Ho came from the clouds aboard the Tony Cruz trained General Sherman which paid $490 and completely destroyed many Six Ups, win roll ups and just about everything else.
So when looking at tonight’s races, and hoping to leave with a gold finger, leave out an outsider ridden by Vincent “Oddjob” Ho at your peril.
RACING BUZZFEED SELECTIONS FOR HAPPY WEDNESDAY GOES FRENCH TONIGHT…
Speaking of winning and value, over now to the Racing Buzzfeed team who had a very good Sunday despite General Sherman turning that one race into Custer’s Last Stand when Joao Moreira took off like a demented magician and made everyone in the lead become sitting ducks. No one is immune to Brain Free. And no one is immune to the weather gods either. So if the heavens open up, tread warily and cherchez la femme at the Beer Garden as Happy Wednesday Goes French. Have merci.
Kiwi Sunrise (2)
Telecom Titan (8)
Formula Galore (1)
Dragon Dance (6)
Victory Power (9)
Zero Hedge (1)
Seventy Seventy (7)
Buoyant Boy (6)
Savannah Wind (10)
Smart Baby (11)
My Blessing (12)
Go Go Win (1)
Planet Star (1)
Encore Boy (4)
Harrier Jet (5)
Big Fortune (6)
Don’t Miss (6)
Friends Of Ka Ying (2)
Acclaimed Light (12)
The Judge (9)
Patriot Hero (1)
Lucky Time (12)
Har Har Heart (8)
If the rain gods are playing by now, Back In Black definitely comes into play- and gawd knows Tommy Berry needs a winner after almost a one month barren spell- as well as a number of outsiders. Better include what Vincent “Oddjob” Ho is riding- Shanghai Master (4).
Fast Most Furious (1)
Storm Signal (2)
Back In Black (7)
Happy Cooperation (10)
Encore Boy (4)
Patriot Star (1)