Derek Cruz couldn’t stave off retirement but true to his hard-nosed nature, the popular horseman went down fighting with a win at the season finale to end his long and illustrious career on a high.

While Cruz is in New Zealand tending to yearlings at his family’s Winmark Racing stables in Cambridge, his son Martin was on hand to speak for the stable after Elusive State’s surprise success.

“We went down swinging and while we knew it would be tough, I think we had a great season,” he said, pointing to the fact his yard had a higher strike rate than many ranked above it in the championship. “Thirteen wins was a good effort given the ammunition we had at our disposal. Everything must come to a close but my father has had a great run and achieved a lot.”

The 64-year-old Cruz would have faced compulsory retirement next season but failed to meet the benchmark criteria for wins for the third time, which means facing a show cause meeting with the licensing committee.

The last few months have been challenging for the Cruz stable as horse numbers dwindled and the trainer had already notified the committee that he would not reapply for a licence if he did not reach the 16 wins required under this season’s performance criteria.

Cruz’s absence opened an opportunity for Martin, who is licensed to train in New Zealand, to get more hands-on experience at Sha Tin, something he hopes can help him gain a spot in the future as a trainer or assistant.

“Right now the focus will shift to New Zealand, but maybe sometime in the future,” he said. “This is the best racing in the world and I want to personally thank all of the people that helped me work under my father here.”

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Licensed for 27 seasons, a period that covered an era of tremendous growth in the global awareness of Hong Kong racing, Derek Cruz is the Jockey Club’s second longest serving trainer – with only John Moore licensed longer – and he has trained some of its finest thoroughbreds.

Out of a total of 568 winners, Good Ba Ba’s 2009 Hong Kong Mile win springs to mind as a highlight and there was also Natural Blitz’s shock victory in the 2005 Hong Kong Sprint, but perhaps his finest training accomplishment was with evergreen sprinter Joy And Fun, who finished racing in 2014.

Joy And Fun had already placed in the Hong Kong Sprint and won an Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai but Cruz’s effort to bring the tough gelding back from a serious injury suffered later that season at Royal Ascot was as good a display of animal husbandry seen at Sha Tin.

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Joy And Fun raced competitively until age nine, placing at Meydan twice more and capping a magnificent career racing against a golden era of sprinters with victory in the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize in 2012.

Joy And Fun has retired to the family’s picturesque property and Cruz will join his warhorse full-time in the search for more winners.