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Tony Cruz: 1500 Not Out

Updated: Apr 8

At a time when Hong Kong needs home grown heroes, it was apt that one of the city’s favourite sons in Tony Cruz trained his 1500th winner yesterday afternoon at the Shatin races.

For someone who was growing up alongside Tony and going to very different secondary schools and leading different lifestyles, our paths somehow criss crossed and we got to know each other as well as two young guys could.

During those early days of Hong Kong racing, it was a privilege to know Tony, a star apprentice jockey who was on his way to international fame.

Even if we didn’t really know him, we said that we did because Tony Cruz was already almost famous like his good friend and fellow champion jockey- the equally prodigious young Australian rider Gary Moore.

Being around famous people was addictive and introduced us to a more interesting and diverse social circle where we grew up quickly in the company of models, the showbiz crowd and the rich and famous older business types who were drawn to the fame game, playing for high stakes and what was a six star Hong Kong lifestyle.

Along with legendary celebrities like Bruce Lee, Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung, Tony Cruz is still one of the city’s only true Made In Hong Kong superstars.

That cliché about jockeys in Hong Kong leading Rock star lifestyles started with Tony, who, from an early age had graduated to leading life in the fast lane- driving fast cars, hanging out in the most expensive clubs, appearing in television commercials for sportswear, enjoying a champagne and caviar lifestyle and being someone with very special talent when it came to winning at the races.

Everyone loves a winner, baby…

Tony is a reminder of what Hong Kong was, how us Hong Kong boys with not much money got to where we were going quicker than most, and became friends who had power and short cuts.

They weren’t exactly triads, but they might have been chieftains- pleasant gentlemen who became godfathers and uncles for life.

In Tony, here was someone who transcended horse racing despite always being in horse racing.

He was a “KOL” and “influencer” before there was the superficial online world where angels fear to tread.

Growing up in Hong Kong, we were very different people with equally different groups of friends, and despite what some might think, not many dreamed of being in horse racing.

Still, we got to know each other and how we could be friends by moving in the same social circles.

All that everything is what made Hong Kong tick, tock, rock and roll and taught us the importance in being street smart and not be taken in by a good story.

Looking back, we played our own individual roles in making and shaping ourselves and somehow helping Hong Kong become the proud, unique and confident international city that it became- though we didn’t know it at the time.

Those were wonderful days when whether a champion jockey in his teens and the racing idol of thousands, or someone making a name for themselves in advertising or music or films, our careers meshed, friendships were formed, and somehow, in our own ways, we helped that once barren rock grow

I have many fond memories of Tony

There were his brothers and father Uncle Johnny.

He married the rather spectacular looking model and Miss Singapore Airlines in Pauline.

We had mutual friends, most of whom lived in the bank flats in Kowloon, and there was then all he accomplished as a jockey at a very young age.

I wasn’t a big racing fan and the American girl I eventually married wanted nothing to do with going out with someone involved in a gambling oriented pastime.

I think the first time I ever saw Tony win a race was at Happy Valley when I was in my late teens and he led all the way on a horse trained by George Sofronoff called Regal Way.

Old George had a rather attractive daughter named Lydia, who most of us teenage boys wanted to get to know better.

Jockeys George Cadwaladr and Eddie Lo beat us to the punch. But there was so much more of everything else out there and plenty of living to do.

Especially memorable to Hong Kong racing fans was his last ride as a jockey.

He was on Super Team and stood up on his irons and waived to his legion of fans as he crossed the finish line.

Who came second? Who cared? Tony bowed out a winner.

We’ve had dinners together, and I even wrote and sang about the horse he will always be associated with- Silent Witness.

Meanwhile, I have heard Tony sing all three parts of the hits of the Stylistics and the Delfonics at karaoke and have listened many times about his near-death experience story after a race fall and heading towards the white light until he heard Pauline calling him back.

Tony Cruz is special. Very special and more complex than people think.

He’s the Hong Kong boy who made it big. Real big.

He grew up fast and had the world at his feet.

Most importantly, he’s always been his own man.

He took on all comers, he took the blows, and he’s always done things his way.

He’s no one’s toadie.

There’s still much more he has to do now that he’s trained 1500 winners in Hong Kong horse racing.

It’s about continuing to be a winner in the game of life, brother.

Well done, Putha Man.

And always keep your pedal to the metal.

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