Cruz: Bullish Champion cannot be ignored in Derby
Six-time Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby winner Tony Cruz admits the chances of brilliant sprinter Bullish Champion running a strong 2,000m in Sunday's main event are doubtful, but warned, 'if he gets the distance, he'll win it.'
Cruz has two horses from opposite ends of the staying spectrum entered in the HK$16 million feature for four-year-olds, Bullish Champion and Packing Tycoon.
Packing Tycoon is a typical European Derby-bound import, with form at 10 furlongs and beyond, but Bullish Champion has never raced over further than 1,400m in his 12 starts. Bullish Champion will jump from a Class One win over 1,400m win, with five weeks between runs, into the Derby, where Cruz will instruct Matthew Chadwick to lead at all costs and then rate the colt in front.
'He is known as a sprinter and I'm stretching him to a mile-and-a-quarter race, so it is a bit unknown and a bit doubtful,' Cruz said. 'But if he does run it right out, he'll win it, as simple as that. All I know is, he is as fit as he can be and he'll definitely lead the race.'
Packing Tycoon came to Cruz off a rating of 90, with a Group Three win over 2,000m and a Group Two placing over 2,400m, so his staying credentials were never in doubt. The colt had been unimpressive in his first five local starts, but drawing a bad gate in a Class One last start might have helped find the key to riding the horse.
Gerald Mosse, who rides again on Sunday, was forced to adopt hold-up tactics, which sparked the horse into action, as he charged through the line for fourth over 1,800m.
'When we went to the front from a wide gate in the Classic Cup, he dropped out badly,' Cruz said. 'He went back at the start and produced that great run, so we've decided that's the way to ride him.
'It was impressive, he was drawn out in 13, so we had to stop and put him back to second last and he made up a heap of ground. He has always been a 2,000m horse, so the trip is perfect for him.'
The trainer is obviously hoping for inside draws with both of his runners. 'It's always an advantage to be drawn one to seven at that start in my opinion,' he said. 'Bullish Champion, he has too much natural speed compared to the rest of the field. If Packing Tycoon can get a good gate, we can go back and get cover.' Cruz has a special place in his heart for the Derby, which he won four times as a jockey and twice more as a trainer, with Lucky Owners in 2004 and Helene Mascot in 2008.
'Before the International Races came along, the only big race in Hong Kong was the Derby and I still think it is the most prestigious race in town,' he said. 'Being only for four-year-olds, it means your horse gets one shot at it, so it's a one-in-a-lifetime race.'