Tony Cruz's seemingly inexorable march towards training glory continued unabated at Sha Tin's big Lunar New Year fixture yesterday, when Deauville took the prestigious Centenary Vase and completed a double for the racing legend. Cruz, formerly a six-time champion jockey, scored with Electronic Zone in the opening griffin event, and has now sent out an amazing 22 winners in his first season as a trainer. Hong Kong's most enduring world class sportsman is already the top local trainer in the standings, and is just seven behind the defending champion, Ivan Allan.
Cruz himself won't hear of a training championship in his first season. He pointed out: 'I don't have enough young horses. The vast majority of my team are old handicappers that I've had to patch up. 'Next season I probably won't have enough new blood either, but in my third season, that is when I'll be prepared to talk about winning championships.' That maybe so, but yesterday's success with Deauville is likely to have more owners beating on his stable doors. He's already mustered virtually a full complement, with his 57-strong team just three below the maximum. But Deauville was starting for Cruz for the first time, having joined his yard in a headline-grabbing move from French mentor Patrick Biancone.
In truth, it would be most unfair on Biancone to say that Deauville has improved for the change in stables. Yesterday he scored by a head and 13/4 lengths from Mazal and his old sparring partner Privilege, who was having to concede 11 pounds to Deauville. Deauville was probably running up to the best form he had shown for Biancone, but that isn't the point. His performance underlines that Cruz can get a horse to perform as well as such a world renowned handler as Biancone, and local owners will perceive it as a great triumph. When he rode, Cruz was always the punters' darling. They might have derided him after an odds-on flop, but those boos usually turned to cheers, and the ticker-tape farewell he received when he bowed out on a winner will go down in racing history.
Cruz is now wowing them as a trainer in much the same way, and can look forward to a steady stream of decent horses, and owners with plenty of money to spend, coming his way - and rightly so. Yesterday, Deauville was helped by a combination of some cut in the ground, a copybook ride from Eric Saint-Martin - who was patience personified - and Legitimate disputing the lead with Success Partners. This set the race up for something to come from behind, and Saint-Martin turned for home on Deauville in this 2,200-metre contest with the proverbial double handful. But here Saint-Martin completed Cruz's training job.
He didn't kick. Instead he waited. He then waited again. And again. It was not until the last 100 metres that he asked Deauville to come off the bit, and the result was that head victory over Mazal, himself ridden a treat by Mick Kinane from way off the pace. 'It was always the plan to ride him more patiently,' said Saint-Martin. Privilege lost nothing in defeat. He was beaten by the 137 pounds, finding the concession of weight all round to a collection of the territory's best stayers beyond him. 'I think the sting out of the ground also helped Deauville a lot more than it helped us,' reflected Privilege's jockey Basil Marcus. 'He's handled the ground in the past and can definitely go on it.
'But he was a lot further down the ratings scale in those days, and he's probably best bowling along on top of the ground.' There's not much to Electronic Zone, who will not be fully three years old until May, and is a most sparely made chestnut son of the American stallion Rahy. But what there is is all quality, as he showed with a comfortable, 23/4-length defeat of Time Well in the griffins' contest, with the improving Diamond And Gold a head back in third. 'He should be a better horse next season,' reflected Cruz. Electronic Zone was also ridden by Saint-Martin. His double took him to 19 winners for the season, and into joint fifth alongside compatriot Eric Legrix in the table.
Chris Cheung's Perpetual Harmony looked a good horse in the making when taking the second event under Simon Yim. Runner-up Mr Intermac is a future winner waiting to happen. The Sherie Kong-ridden Harvard scored a surprise win at 127-1 for Tony P. H. Chan in the third, while Allan's Donizetti loved the breakneck speed set by tearaway leaders Gold Yue Yee and Evasive Tactics in the sixth to prevail at 38-1.