By Scott Taylor
On Wednesday night, Alex Cruz rode another Juan Pablo Silva horse to victory at Assiniboia Downs.
It came in Race 7 on a night in which fellow jockey and fellow newcomer Ronald Ali won three races and appeared to dominate the card. Still, with that win aboard Nightly News in the final race of the evening, Cruz extended his lead in the 2019 jockeys’ to race to five wins over defending champion. Antonio Whitehall and this month’s hottest jock, Richard Mairs.
It’s been a great year for Cruz, nicknamed “El Latigo” (The Whip) who arrived this spring from Turf Paradise in Phoenix. Of course, it probably should be. After all, Cruz came to town with 259 career wins and earnings of $2,600,000.
Not bad for a 26-year-old rider from Puerto Rico who has been to just about every track in North America in a very short time.
“First year here and it’s nice,” said Cruz, after he worked out a few horses this week. “I’m from Puerto Rico and there was a lot of racing there. We went the whole year and never took a break. I decided to go to the United States when I was 17 and I’ve been everywhere, New York, Tampa, Phoenix. But I like it here and we’re doing pretty good.”
That’s an understatement. Cruz leads the jockey standings after the first 20 days of racing with 21 wins, 19 seconds, 10 thirds and $198,405 in earnings on 72 starts. He’s been in the money 50 times (69 per cent) already. Whitehall is tied for second with Mairs with 16 wins, 19 seconds, 15 thirds and $188,072 in earnings on 97 mounts while Mairs has 16 wins, 14 seconds, 20 thirds and $176,905 in earnings in 82 starts. Renaldo Cumberbatch is next with 14 wins while Kayla Pizarro has 13 and Chavion Chow, who won twice on Wednesday night, now has 11.
Of course, Cruz’s success is mirrored in Silva’s success. Silva, who was off to Canterbury Downs in Shakopee, Minn., to get more horses from his brother to bring back to Winnipeg, wasn’t available to speak to us about Cruz. But his numbers this season, do tell a story.
He is currently second in the trainers’ standings behind five-time champion Tom Gardipy Jr. Silva has 20 wins in 75 starts and leads in earnings with $201,664. Gardipy Jr. has 21 wins in 94 starts and $185,315 in winnings.
“Last year in Phoenix, it was pretty good and I met Juan Pablo (Silva) and more than just a boss, he became a good friend,” said Cruz. “He told me, let’s go to Canada and try something different. My first option was to go to Arizona Downs, but it shut down, so I agreed with Juan Pablo and I came to Canada and that was the best decision I could have made.
“Juan Pablo is awesome. He knows how to win races.”
Cruz’s entire family is in the racing business in Puerto Rico. His father is an owner and all five of his brothers are trainers.
“When I was 16-years-old, my dad and my brothers said to me, ‘Now we need a rider,’” Cruz explained. “I had never been close with horses but I decided to try it. It was great. I went to America and at 19, got my license in Tampa. Now we are here. Coming here was a great decision.”
Alex Cruz will be on five horses in five races on Friday night when racing resumes at the Downs at 7:30. On Saturday, he’ll have six rides, including the mount on Alpine Luck for trainer Jared Brown in the $30,000 R.J. Speers Stakes.
Racing begins Saturday at 7:30 and the R.J. Speers should go to post at about 10:23 p.m.