Cruz studies game's ups and downs
Tony and Pauline Cruz looked like icebergs stranded in Arctic waters as they braved the cold, wintry weather on the first day of the Guineas Festival at Newmarket. Clearly, learning the ropes of the training game in a place like Britain was no easy number. Cruz, six times the Hong Kong champion as a jockey in a glorious career spanning over 20 years, completes a three-month world tour of training centres later this week. The tour has been lengthy but educational, and will no doubt be of assistance when Cruz officially takes out a trainer's licence in Hong Kong next month.
Many owners have pledged their support and the tip is that his Sha Tin yard will be brimming with talent long before the start of the new season in September. If it is learning that he has been seeking then Cruz could not have come to Newmarket at a better or more interesting point in the season. He joined Henry Cecil at the beginning of a week in which the master trainer was engaged in a tense struggle to get his brilliant filly Bosra Sham to post for yesterday's 1,000 Guineas which she won in impressive style after bruising a foot in training 10 days ago.
Cruz's furrowed brow was accentuated even more when Cecil, his mentor and tutor, waited for Ivan Allan's Clever Cliche to return to the area reserved for the fourth horse following the Newmarket Stakes, a listed contest over 2,000 metres. Clever Cliche, who has been impressive in his debut, overcoming trouble in running to win a Nottingham maiden, had proven a failure when stepping up a grade or two for this important 'trial' for the Derby. The Allan-owned colt finished fourth after failing to respond when the pressure was applied. It was not as if he had not been fancied.
He was backed from even-money to 8-11, carrying a string of major bets with bookmakers. But Clever Cliche changed his legs several times in the final two furlongs, seemed to be unbalanced going into the dip at the furlong marker and struggled home over four and a half lengths from the winner. 'He hated the ground,' declared Pat Eddery, who had the ride. 'He was never comfortable - he wants some give underfoot.' Looking at the faces of Cecil and his wife Natalie, it was clearly a case of 'back to the drawing board'. So Cruz has been on hand to witness some of the lows that come with the training game, even with one of the world's greatest. It is all relative, but when it goes wrong, it can go seriously wrong and there is not a great deal the trainer can do. Cruz spent more than two months in the United States, stopping off in Los Angeles, and visiting the stable of Mohammed Moubarak in Florida and the Buckram Oak Farm, a breeding and training centre in Kentucky. Both the stable and farm are owned by Mahmoud Fustok, for whom Cruz rode in Europe. He purchased two horses at a recent sale in California, one of them for Fustok's American yard. 'I am really pleased to be able to gain this experience,' Cruz said as he sheltered from the elements at Newmarket.
'Training is a big responsibility as you have so many different things to think about. There are the horses themselves, the injuries they might get in training, and the feeding. 'As a jockey, you get no experience of this, but I feel confident that I can use what I have picked up during my riding career to some benefit.' Tony and Pauline Cruz return to Hong Kong later this week.
The stage is then set for Hong Kong's best home-grown talent to embark on a new career.