It’s been 47 years and 2,146 winners since Tony Cruz walked into the Hong Kong Jockey Club apprentice school for a medical at the age of 15 but the prolific trainer loves his job as much now as he ever has.
The 62-year-old ticked off another milestone at Sha Tin on Sunday, landing his 1,200th winner as a trainer when Exultant took out the Group Three Centenary Vase (1,800m) in barnstorming fashion after Diamond Legend became his 1,199th victory three races earlier.
“You get excited, it’s natural. I don’t get excited before a race but once the horse is in the gates it’s ‘here we go’ and the heart starts pumping,” said Cruz, who rode 946 winners as a jockey.
Three G1 winners on show in the G3 Centenary Vase and LONGINES Hong Kong Vase hero Exultant gives Tony Cruz his 1200th winner as a trainer in dramatic style, powering home from the rear in a strongly-run race having been squeezed badly at the start. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/utnHIZb17U— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 27, 2019
“In the days when I was a jockey, my heart never got like that – even in the gates just before the jump, unless it was a big race. Being a trainer is very exciting, I really enjoy the thrills and spills.
“It’s more exciting watching as a trainer, jockeys don’t get excited, they stay calm and when a horse is nervous in the gates the jockeys calm them.”
Cruz is the only person to surpass 2,000 combined Hong Kong wins – Douglas Whyte (1,813) is the only jockey to ride more winners and John Moore (1,628) is the only trainer ahead of him.
Cruz reflected on a lifetime of achievements in the sport and the changes he has seen in nearly half a century of involvement.
“In my days as a jockey you had races once a week and you didn’t have 10 race cards, when Sha Tin started it was only about five or six race cards,” he said. “And it was only 30 or 40 race meets a season, it’s double that now.”
Cruz was in top spirits after the race, joking that it was the perfect time to talk to Exultant’s owners about taking the Group One Longines Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) winner to Dubai in March.
“Right now he won so he will be happy about that, so it should be easier to talk to him,” Cruz said with a grin.
Exultant showed his versatility by stepping back to the 1,800m and doing it with ease and Cruz will now look to Group One Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m) on February 17, before hopefully turning his attention to the Group One Sheema Classic (2,400m) at Meydan on March 30.
“His next stop is the Gold Cup and then maybe Dubai, but I do have to try and convince the owner,” he said. “We can all see the programme, he’s got nowhere else to go unless we go overseas.”
After settling last, Zac Purton started his move 600m from home, looping the field and storming down the outside to hit the front at the 200m.
Glorious Forever and Time Warp didn’t have it all their own in front like many expected and finished at the back of the field, with Pingwu Spark setting a hot pace to set things up for the back-markers.
“I really thought he could win today even though he carried a big weight and the distance was a bit short, it was always going to be fast with Time Warp and Glorious Forever, and then Pingwu Spark,” Cruz said.
Purton rode three winners on the day, with Regency Legend and Noble De Love also saluting, and was full of praise for Exultant.
“It was going to come down to how the race was run really. He’s just an out and out stayer, the pace was there to suit him and he just keeps going when the rest start to find it a bit tough,” he said.
“He’s got a great set of lungs and he’s definitely improved this season. I think [the owners are] happy enough to go [to Dubai], so as long as he stays in form for the next four to six weeks he’ll probably go.”