Back when he was in the saddle and the undisputed golden boy of Hong Kong racing, Tony Cruz aimed to be a big-race specialist and it seems he is wresting the mantle from rival John Moore as the top stakes-race trainer as well if recent results are any indication.
California Whip’s win in the Group Three Premier Cup meant Cruz has swept the last seven Group races of the season, a hot streak that stretches back to Pakistan Star’s astonishing victory in the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup on April 29.
“This is my target, winning the big races,” said Cruz, a six-time champion jockey who rode 946 winners in Hong Kong alone and a host of overseas features.
“All my life it’s been my aim to win the biggest races, even as a jockey. Of course whether it as a jockey or trainer, you have to have the horses, and we have got the right ones now.”
California Whip seems to have found his niche now as a 1,400m specialist – something that can limit a horse’s big-race opportunities – but Cruz is still pleased the five-year-old is putting it all together now.
“You know he has been racing quite consistently,” said Cruz, who also won the Premier Plate with Exultant.
“We have tried a few different things with him, different distances and surfaces, but I’ve always known in the back of my mind that he is a 1,400m specialist. I guess we have to just find as many opportunities as we can at the trip.”
Aggressive tactics from jockey Karis Teetan and the light weight proved key in an eight-horse race that looked tricky on paper.
Teetan got a great jump on California Whip and his intent was to lead before Matthew Chadwick on Magic Legend dug up underneath him.
“Tony didn’t think there was much speed in the race so he wanted me to lead if I could,” Teetan said.
“One thing about him is that we knew he can run a hard 1,400m, so we weren’t afraid to use him a little bit early, especially with the light weight on his back.”
The Mauritian jockey said the fact Magic Legend took up the running might have made the difference for his horse.
“Maybe my horse would have settled and relaxed in front by himself but having that horse there to follow gave him a chance to really back off and breathe. That probably won us the race.”
Born In China (Douglas Whyte) rattled home from last at the 400m mark to finish a neck away in second while veteran sprinter Lucky Bubbles (Brett Preble) regained a glimmer of his best form to battle home for third.
It was a familiar story for 2.6 favourite Thewizardofoz though, with the John Size-trained enigma again failing to make an impact when well fancied in the market.
But the six-year-old did suffer interference in the early stages when Moreira pushed into a gap that shut quickly as a result of horses to his outside shifting in.