Future on the line for troubled jockey Tony

Robin Parke

IT has been a cheerless start to 1993 for Tony Cruz whose career is at crisis point following his split with trainer-brother Derek.

At the New Year meeting many people involved in local racing were still coming to grips with what has been a sensational, but very sad, parting of the ways.

The Cruz family, deeply involved in racing in the territory for decades, has always been presented as a closely-knit one, so this heavily-publicised split goes deeper than simply the sport itself. With Tony's career on the line, it is rather difficultto picture the amicable family get-togethers of the past.

Tony has been a major ambassador for Hongkong racing in Europe and he is, without doubt, by lengths the best rider produced by the Royal Hongkong Jockey Club's Beas River apprentice school.

That obvious talent was spotted by Patrick Biancone who engaged Tony to ride Triptych in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket when virtually nobody outside Hongkong had heard of him.

It was typical of the Biancone panache and it paid off, springboarding Tony into the headlines and several European contracts. It was ironic that his only ride at the New Year's Day meeting was for Biancone on Hung Hing.

When Tony turned his back on England - after an excellent season there - for a much-heralded homecoming to ride primarily for his brother, there was every reason to believe that he would be champion jockey for the foreseeable future.

Not only had he the 60 horses in Derek's stable but he also had first call on many of the 50-plus in the stable of old friend, Wong Tang-ping.

At the start of the season he would have been at very short odds to land the championship he currently leads with those two powerful stables behind him.

Now, with exactly two-thirds of the season remaining, Cruz must join the twice-weekly scramble for available rides.

But two months ago, trainer Wong, who has used him since apprentice days, took him off virtually all horses in his stable. It was another major shock and a body blow to Tony and his title ambitions.

Tony and Wong had been associated for many seasons with the brilliant Co-Tack and the partnership looked solid. Now, as the New Year rolls on, Tony must reflect on virtually the total loss of what was his entrenched support.

Anywhere in world racing, it is difficult for a jockey to succeed without the backing of a major stable. And more so in Hongkong where the leading stables have their own jockeys and outside rides are at a premium.

The Jockey Club has asked both brothers about the reasons behind the split but those reasons have not been publicised, which will inevitably lead to intense public speculation.

At this stage, there appears no going back and Tony must now face up to a situation undreamed of just a few months ago. Success breeds jealousy and there will be plenty chuckling privately over this distressing episode, but Tony must do his best to take what looks like a knockout punch . . . and come back fighting.

Apart from whatever private feelings of sadness there may be, Derek will be largely unaffected by the split.

One thing Hongkong is not short off is talented jockeys and Alan Munro is currently slipping into the number one position for the stable. Others will follow and Derek is a notably hard-working, conscientious trainer who will not let his owners down.

Tony, however, faces the toughest race of his life. It's not a Derby or an Arc but if he doesn't win his battle to overcome adversity, he may become just another important name on Hongkong racing's Roll of Honour board. For him, the stakes have never been higher.