By Hans Ebert

These days, he’s travelling below the radar, not that he wants to, or even thinks about it, but everything that could have been written about Tony Cruz already has. He has nothing more to prove. Except for perhaps his efforts over many decades to be a karaoke singer.

Tony Cruz aka Putha Man is on auto glide these days and comfortable with where he is as Hong Kong racing, at least for right now, sees the success of trainers Ricky Yiu and Francis Lui with co-starring roles shared by Frankie Lor, first season trainer Douglas Whyte, and Jimmy Ting.

Ricky Yiu has always been amongst the winners, especially with champion sprinters Sacred Kingdom and Fairy King Prawn. But the overnight success of the unassuming and long-serving Francis Lui, who’s never won a Hong Kong trainers championship before and, only this season, is attracting more owners- and still with some spending power as the decline in the global economy affects many- and who has forged a hugely successful association with jockey Vincent CY Ho, below, the shows how quickly the picture can change in Hong Kong.

Though those legendary names- John Moore and John Size- are still amongst the winners, it’s no longer with their past dominance. At least seemingly so though John Moore is no doubt making new plans.

Of course, Hong Kong today is a completely different beast to what it once was as a city and as a home. It’s been an unpredictable mongrel for over a year and barking mad at nearly everything, especially coming up against one problem after another with no light at the end of the tunnel.

As for Tony Cruz, he’s still racking up trebles and doubles while travelling in his own zone. He doesn’t need the publicity, but he trains to win and his strike rate is right up there.

What’s always been interesting has been his choice of riders. Around 3-4 seasons ago and when the combination of Blazing Speed and Neil Callan were on a winning tootsie roll, seemingly, this partnership could do no wrong. But the bromance fizzled out.

Blazing Speed turned out to be some wacky version of racing’s Blazing Saddles with the syndicate of owners quarrelling amongst each other and eventually ending up in court suffering from, some say, flatulence. Success often breeds contempt and greed. And flatulence.

Always being his own man, and like he has done more recently with all the politics surrounding one of the owners of his galloper Hong Kong Bet, Cruz sidestepped the blazing acrimony of those who quickly became former owners and moved on.

More recently, Karis Teetan has been his “go to” jockey and it’s been a very very successful team. But then recently along came the pretty much unheralded Tony Piccone for a short riding stint in Hong Kong.

Piccone hit the ground running, and Cruzy, who had ridden against the Frenchman’s father when competing in Europe as a young jockey, decided to give the newcomer plenty of opportunities to add to his tally of winners.

When this didn’t really materialise with that much success, Joao Moreira was used sparingly whereas this evening, we see that the Karismatic One, below, is back in favour with the stable.

Especially interesting to watch will be the performance of Californiadeepshot who made a brilliant debut a few weeks ago with an extraordinary winning performance. The Karismatic One enjoyed the moment.

Though drawn barrier twelve again and with nine pounds more to carry, Teetan retains the ride at a lonely Happy Valley Racecourse tonight along with being on board Multimillions and California Legend for the, well, let’s just say, enigmatic trainer- sometimes almost as baffling to predict as his now-retired galloper and “viral sensation” Pakistan Star.

What will the racing be like tonight? Quiet. Extremely quiet with the public still shut out of attending the races, the Off Course Betting Centres closed and those, who for decades have simply used the HKJC’s Telebet services, now left with a betting app if wishing to play. This is a Big If.

It’s been written many many times how horse racing is the lifeblood of Hong Kong- the main artery that keeps the city alive. And these days with many shops, restaurants, clubs, karaoke lounges and even cinemas closed, most of us are confined to staying at home and watching horse racing as a television series with a somewhat thin plot. It’s either that or Netflix.

Still, the show must go on and all credit to the HKJC for its leadership skills in making this happen, and at all times ensuring the safety of everyone involved in keeping this pastime alive though served without all the trimmings.

Turnover is certainly not what it was, but still better than most other racing jurisdictions considering the circumstances. But without the excitement of that on-course experience, it’s all a bit like watching black and white television and entering the Twilight Zone.

Some of us thought we had when race caller Tom Wood recently decided to add some oomph to his commentary when he screamed out, “Exultant is carrying the hopes of the grandstand on his shoulders!” Well…

If this TV series is to continue, however, the format has to be drastically changed in order to still interest whatever viewing audience there might be in Hong Kong.

Rise to the challenge and it could even be mean a much needed magic elixir that might bring something new to what these days looks and sounds even more dated than usual.

#HKracing #HKJC #HongKong #coronavirus #horseracing #TonyCruz #KarisTeetan