Tony Cruz-ing to legendary status, Latest Racing News - The New Paper

Tony Cruz-ing to legendary status

QEII Cup-winning trainer the best horseman Hong Kong has produced

The headline read: Tony Cruz is Hong Kong racing's original "living legend".

It was not given as a pleasantry, but for Sunday's HK$25 million (S$4.5 million) Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup-winning trainer's incredible achievements - both as a jockey and a trainer - after joining the first intake at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Apprentice Jockeys' School in 1972.

As a jockey, he won the Hong Kong premiership six times and had numerous major triumphs among his 946 winners.

He also held his own among the world's best in Europe, most notably with his many Group 1 victories aboard the great mare Triptych.

He also made a few fleeting visits to Singapore and Malaysia and won the Singapore Gold Cup on the Ivan Allan-trained Big Chief in 1984.

He also rode the Allan-trained Colonial Chief to win the inaugural Hong Kong Invitation Cup in 1989, when the race was a six-a-side between Hong Kong and Singapore-Malaysia.

Cruz, who switched to training in 1996, captured two premierships and has notched more than 1,200 winners. In 2005, he set the then-record for a season's total (91) and earnings (HK$113 million).

His long list of major wins include Exultant, who was his third QEII Cup, after Blazing Speed (2015) and Pakistan Star (2018). He also won it twice as a jockey.

But his most famous achievement was his association with the great Hong Kong sprinter Silent Witness.

The world champion chalked up 17 consecutive wins, before tasting defeat by stablemate Bullish Luck in the 2005 Champions Mile.

It has been 48 years since Cruz trotted into the Hong Kong Jockey Club apprentice school, but the 63-year-old loves the thrills and spills of his training job as much.

"In the days when I was a jockey, my heart never got like that - even in the gates just before the jump, unless it was a big race. Being a trainer is very exciting, I really enjoy the thrills and spills," he said.

"It's more exciting watching as a trainer. Jockeys don't get excited, they stay calm and, when a horse is nervous in the gates, the jockeys calm them."

Cruz is the only person to surpass 2,000 combined Hong Kong wins.


The current best homegrown jockey Vincent Ho, who won his first Group 1 race with Southern Legend in the HK$20m FWD Champions Mile on Sunday, said Cruz was revered as an idol, like Bruce Lee, for many budding riders like himself.

"Tony is really special in Hong Kong," he said. "When we were young, we all looked up to him. We'd all heard his name. Even as a young child, before I was even interested in racing, I knew who Tony Cruz was. Everyone knows Tony Cruz."

He added that Cruz has so much experience in racing that it made him a great trainer.

Cruz and his older brother, Derek, followed their amateur race rider father Johnny when he was just eight years old.

He started his riding career during the 1973/74 season.

He soon made waves, after his first win on Dec 11, 1974, on the George Sofronoff-trained Cirrus, a 20-1 shot in a Class 6 1,400m race on the now-defunct Happy Valley sand track.

Reminiscing about his early start, Cruz said: "It was like the wild, wild west back in the old days. Some of those jockeys, if you beat them in a race, they'd come after you and choke you by the neck. They'd lift you off your feet. I beat them in a finish and they were a lot older than me, I was like 16 or 17, and these guys were in their 30s."

He remembers the likes of French champion Philippe Paquet and 11-time Irish champion Pat Eddery, who was " in his prime when he came here".

Cruz also fondly recalls his time in Europe, especially the horse that made him and Hong Kong proud - Triptych.

He partnered Patrick Biancone's stable star to major wins, such as the Champion Stakes (1986 and 1987) in England, the Prix Ganay (1987) in France, the Coronation Cup (1987) in England and the Irish Champion Stakes (1987).

"Every race I won on her was special," said Cruz. "But the Phoenix Park Champion Stakes in Ireland, that was an exciting race. We were running last and she weaved through them all. It was a great feeling."

Cruz has a remarkable recall of events and facts from his riding days,including the honour of meeting the Queen of England.

"There was a lot of prestige to riding for big owners like the Queen," he said. "She gave me an opportunity and she was always very nice. I met her when she came here for the QEII Cup in 1986 and I was presented to her."