Japan trip on cards for old warrior Egyptian Ra
Top trainer Tony Cruz is eyeing a career-ender with a Group One bang for grand galloper Egyptian Ra after the eight-year-old toughed it out to win the Group Three Chinese Club Challenge Cup (1,400m) yesterday at Sha Tin in familiar style.
For Cruz, the day was a happy return to where his second career virtually began, on New Year's Day 14 years ago, as he celebrated with the feature race after notching his 700th career winner as a trainer with Penglai Xianzi (Matthew Chadwick) earlier on the card.
It was January 1, 1996, when Cruz won the final event of New Year's Day on Super Team to finish his brilliant riding career in style and take up a record-breaking training career, which sees him ranked behind only John Moore, Brian Kan Ping-chee and George Moore as the most successful handlers in Hong Kong history.
Bowing out of the saddle on the auspicious day, Cruz has continued to make his mark on January 1, with Egyptian Ra his fourth winner of the Chinese Club Challenge Cup in the past nine runnings of the race and he is already looking ahead to a swansong with real flair for the gelding.
'As long as Egyptian Ra remains sound, he is still running well in everything and I thought he ran a great race in the Hong Kong Mile,' he said.
'He'll go to the Stewards' Cup now and the other Group races - there are no other options - but I'm thinking as this is probably his last season maybe we could try going somewhere else with him before he's retired.
'I think the Yasuda Kinen would be a terrific race for him. The track is firm there in Tokyo and he's that kind of horse - the faster the better for him.'
Egyptian Ra missed his chance at the Yasuda Kinen in June last year after pulling up lame from his narrow defeat in the Champions Mile, and Cruz has always been adamant the softer ground that day cost him not only the victory behind Sight Winner, but was the reason he went lame in the race and had to miss Tokyo.
Yesterday's event panned out perfectly for Egyptian Ra, with the eight-year-old able to pick his way through the early speed horses, stablemates Dream Team and Danesis, to find the front after his usual shuffle out of the starting stalls.
'He's not a fast starter anymore, he's lost that gate speed but he's still quick once he gets going and he just wants to run through them, past everybody, like he did today,' Cruz said. 'He just loves the rail and if you look at the head-on, wow, he was really riding that rail very close today. He's a one-action horse, he loves 1,400m and he's always very hard to get past.'
The John Moore-trained Sunny King (Howard Cheng Yue-tin) ran Egyptian Ra very close on the wire after Cheng had caused some bother finding his way clear, but alas for the jockey, he narrowly failed to win and landed only a two-day ban and HK$35,000 fine for his troubles.
Cheng was not the only rider to emerge with a careless-riding ban from the race, as Greg Cheyne (Dream Team) also copped two days.
With Chadwick landing both Cruz winners, he is now perched a lone victory away from graduating to the senior ranks by scoring his 70th win and he nearly had it when the Cruz-trained Splendid Champion went down in a deceptive photo to Amazing Journey (Derek Leung Ka-chun).
'The horse was a bit green in the race but I thought he might even have won and when I saw Derek jump up and give a winning salute, I said to him, 'I can't believe you can be that sure',' Chadwick said.
Tony Cruz and Matthew Chadwick are in impressive form. Their strike rate after yesterday's double is: 16%