California Fortune keeps Tony in Cruz control at Sha Tin

Tony Cruz-trained California Fortune wins the Hong Kong Reunification Cup. Source: HKJC

California Fortune (126lb) took the Class 2 Hong Kong Reunification Cup Handicap (1200m) this afternoon (Sunday, 1 July) at Sha Tin Racecourse, ensuring that trainer Tony Cruz continued his feature race bonanza of recent months.

The 16/1 shot led home a trio of double-figure contenders in the 13-runner 1200m contest, passing the post three quarters of a length ahead of 22/1 chance Dragon General (122lb) with Star Shine (122lb) third at 12/1.

California Fortune has a long way to go to be counted in the same league as Cruz’s standout galloper, Pakistan Star, winner of two Group 1 contests this spring, but jockey Neil Callan had plenty of praise for the gelding nonetheless.

“He has so much speed and so much power. He’s got ability, this horse,” Callan said of the Fastnet Rock four-year-old.

“He pulled hard early and that meant he got tired at the end, but in the early part of the straight, from the 250 (metres) to the 200 (metres), I could feel that he was just giving me a bit. He didn’t have much left at the end so it was good for him when the line came.”

California Fortune took his Hong Kong record to three wins from 12 starts, stopping the clock in 1m 09.08s on a turf track rated good after a mid-card squall.

“Tony said to let him get into his stride and get comfortable,” Callan said.

“He was good at the break and I could see Zac (Purton) on Baltic Whisper (129lb) had a little more speed than me so I was happy to let him go. But once we got into the first turn my horse took hold of the bridle and I didn’t want to fight him – I tried to hold him for a bit but once he wanted to go I didn’t interfere with him.”

California Fortune led after 950m, extended his advantage upon straightening for home and held on gamely to give his trainer optimism for next term.

“He’s going to improve a lot and he’ll be a better, more professional racehorse next season,” Cruz said. “He’s a sprinter, 1200 metres looks to be ideal for him.”

Cruz nailed a “California” double when California Joy took the last, the Class 3 Sporting Exchange 1400m Handicap. That win gave defending champion jockey Joao Moreira two wins on the day, against rival Zac Purton’s one. The latter headed for home three ahead in the title race with four meetings remaining.

Purton held Moreira in second when driving the Dennis Yip-trained Goko to success in race two, the Class 4 World-Class Leadership 1000m Handicap. The Brazilian struck back when the Derek Cruz-trained Elusive State pulled clear in the Class 4 Continuous Development 1650m Handicap.

Cruising (131lb) defied top-weight and inexperience to land the afternoon’s second trophy contest, the Class 3 Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup Handicap (1200m). Umberto Rispoli had no worries as the Benno Yung-trained gelding quickened away to a two and a half-length victory over runner-up Mr Wealth (130lb).

“I think he’s a really interesting three-year-old,” Rispoli said. “I didn’t press him 100 percent so I think there’s some more there. He was looking around, so he’s still learning.”

Cruising, a two-time winner from four starts in Australia pre-import, built upon a promising second to Alcari at his Hong Kong debut last month.

“I reckon he’s very nice and there’s more to come,” Rispoli said of the 2.8 second-favourite. “He can probably handle 1400 metres because he’s a very easy horse to ride; he settled and then once in the straight, he balanced up well; when Mr Wealth came next to him he just kept going.”

But while the Italian rider was pleased with Cruising’s effort, he was not getting carried away.

“I’d like to see him in against serious Class 2 horses and then we’ll be able to get a better idea of just how good he might be,” he added.

That ensured a brace for Rispoli thanks to a grinding effort earlier aboard Fiama in the Class 3 Uncompromising Integrity 2000m Handicap. The win took trainer Michael Freedman to 14 for the term.

Jockey Tommy Berry notched a double on the dirt track to take his season’s tally to 18. The departing Australian took the opener, the Class 5 Racing Goes On 1650m Handicap on the Yung-trained Lucky Win Win and landed the penultimate race, the Class 3 Striding On Together 1650m Handicap in tandem with the Manfred Man-trained Jade Fortune, a 47/1 longshot.

The John Moore-trained Victory Machine was tenacious in taking the Class 4 Serving The Community 1200m Handicap, responding to apprentice Matthew Poon’s urgings down the home stretch to hold off a scramble of late closers by a head.

That win took Poon briefly to within two wins of Derek Leung in the fight for the Tony Cruz Award, but Leung hit back when the Frankie Lor-trained Flash Famous annexed the Class 4 Riding High Together 1400m Handicap.