Cruz may hold key to Derby dilemma

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 February, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 February, 1994, 12:00am

FOUR previous winners of the English Derby attempt to take the $4 million Hong Kong equivalent at Sha Tin today, but it could be local idol Tony Cruz who foils the invaders.

The legendary Lester Piggott heads the roll-call of Epsom heroes having won arguably the world's greatest race a record-breaking nine times. He is followed by dual winner Walter Swinburn, who won first with the magnificent and subsequently tragic Shergar; Alan Munro, who won with Generous, and the most recent victor, Irish champion jockey Mick Kinane who won last year on Commander In Chief.

Only Kinane has won the Hong Kong Derby previously, scoring two years ago with Sound Print.

But the quartet of Epsom winners may be forced to play second fiddle to Hong Kong-born Cruz who rides long-time favourite Our Pal in the 1,800-metre Classic.

Our Pal finished fourth in an inconclusive Classic Trial two weeks ago but that was after a two-month lay-off and trainer Derek Cruz has had his impressive son of Bakharoff set for the richest domestic race in the calendar for a long, long time.

When Our Pal hit the front in the Classic Trial it looked as if he would capture the main lead-up race to the Derby, but the gelding's condition gave out slightly and he was beaten a couple of short heads.

But the race has brought him on a lot and he will strip a super fit horse today - and was also gifted with the ideal barrier (4) at Thursday's special noon draw.

Tony Cruz is no stranger to Derby glory here having won it on two previous occasions but success today would be ultra sweet.

He patched up his headline-making quarrel with brother Derek six weeks ago and since then has been on a growing number of horses from the stable.

But success in the territory's greatest domestic race would be a great achievement for the brothers, homegrown heroes who are pitching in today against some of the biggest names in world racing.

Our Pal has been meticulously prepared for the race but there is no possible doubt that today's renewal is one of the toughest Derbys in years.

Leading trainer and champion-elect Ivan Allan starts four in the Classic with Piggott riding Sterling Town, champion jockey Basil Marcus on the rather disappointing McBrave, claimer Stanley K.M. Chin, minus allowance, on outsider All Thrills and Walter Swinburn partnering Wonderful Moment.

It's an interesting quartet but Swinburn's mount makes most appeal.

Wonderful Moment is a wonderful mover and scored a stunning victory over 1,400 metres last time, absolutely pulverising a field of largely Class Two horses. Clearly, the Derby is an entirely different prospect but it was the manner of his victory, and one before that, which suggests Wonderful Moment is rather special.

There will be a big welcome back at Sha Tin for Irish hero Kinane who was injured in a dreadful fall at Happy Valley at the beginning of February. It has taken the 34-year-old international star some time to recover but he's fighting fit again - and looking for winners.

The manner in which he has annexed some of the world's great races suggests he is one to be on in some way today in the Derby. He rides Smiling for Peter Ng Bik-kuen and the horse's form is rock solid going into the race.

Again, this is a stiffer test but he was good enough to be Listed Race quality in Ireland and he has done everything right here. Kinane is lethal in the big ones and Smiling must be accorded a quinella and tierce chance.

China Cruise goes into the race with an unblemished record of four wins from four lifetime starts.

But there was an audible groan at the barrier draw on Thursday when the No 14 marble went China Cruise's way.

It was the worst possible draw for a horse who may be a bit suspect at the trip and would be looking for cover early.

John Marshall, who won the International Cup on Motivation, landed the last-minute ride on Winning Chance when trainer Alex Wong Yu-on took a voluntary promotion to get him into the race. And Winning Chance drew next to the rails, certainly a bonus.

The horse must be suspect over the 1,800-metre trip but Marshall will get him settled and he could prove to be something of a surprise packet.