Hong Kong racing legend Tony Cruz and French jockey Tony Piccone have struck up an unlikely friendship which will see them combine seven times on Saturday, including a plum ride on a talented type.
Piccone will partner Private Secretary in the Class Two Lung Kong Handicap (1,600m) at Sha Tin with Cruz electing to wind back the clock after champion jockey Zac Purton was forced to forgo the ride because of a suspension.
Cruz rode with Piccone’s father, Jean-Marc, in France during the 1990s in what was a whirlwind time for the legendary jockey. He also rode against Alexis Badel’s father, Alain.
“It’s incredible how it works, I know the Piccone and the Badel family,” Cruz said.
“I know all of those guys, I spent five years in France, [Piccone’s] dad is my age and so was Badel’s father, we all raced together back then, I have very fond memories of it. [Badel] is a spitting image of his father.
“Piccone, he has his father’s resemblance for sure, it is so good to see these guys following in their fathers’ footsteps.”
Cruz went on to ride for the likes of the queen, the Aga Khan, Henry Cecil and Ian Balding during his time in Europe before returning to Hong Kong to finish off his riding career.
Now one of the leading trainers at Sha Tin, Cruz said he loved to seeing both Piccone and Badel ride in Hong Kong.
“I would have loved for my kids to get into racing but they were just too bloody heavy,” he laughed. “They’re destined for it these guys.
“I am happy now, my son is a very business-minded person, he does law and so does my daughter.”
Piccone got his Hong Kong career off to a dream start, landing a winner on his first day in the saddle.
However, it was his ride on the Cruz-trained Party Everyday at 107-1 that reaffirmed his ability to the prominent trainer.
“Tony has Private Secretary for me, Zac got suspended so the opportunity came up for him,” Cruz said.
“He just seemed to come along, he has slotted in at the right time. I really do think he is a good jockey for sure.”
Private Secretary announced himself in Hong Kong in the best possible way last month when he won on debut at Happy Valley.
The former John Gosden-trained galloper is Cruz’s leading four-year-old series candidate and Saturday’s race shapes as his final lead-up run before the Classic Mile on January 27.
“He is my potential Derby horse, he has been from day one,” Cruz said after his win on December 26.
“In the future, he needs further than a mile – he will go up to 2,000m but that is all.”
While the Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Golden Sixty is likely to start a hot favourite in the Classic Mile, contenders have been coming thick and fast.
John Size’s Beauty Legacy mirrored Private Secretary on Sunday when he won in Class Two in his Hong Kong debut, taking his rating to 100.