Attempting to consolidate a strong start to the season, Tony Cruz hopes California Spangle can enhance Group 1 Hong Kong Mile (1600m) ambitions with success in the Group 2 Oriental Watch Trophy Handicap (1600m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (October 16).
Bidding for an eighth win from 12 starts with the mercurial Starspangledbanner gelding, Cruz believes last season's Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) victor can dominate this weekend's contest from barrier rise with his high cruising speed under reigning champion jockey Zac Purton.
“I'm very happy with California Spangle, he's won his race (Group 3 Celebration Cup Handicap, 1400m) first-up and he's pulled up clean. He's spot on coming into this race,” said Cruz, who has nine wins so far this campaign.
“From his previous race, Zac got off and said he's a much better horse this season, he's more patient and he's much more settled. He's always been racing in front all of his career and we'll stick to that way of riding him. He's got too much speed not to use it. So, he'll go straight to the front.
“I think he's still got improvement yet.”
Depending on his progress after Sunday's race, Cruz is planning to tackle the Hong Kong Mile on December 11 with the four-year-old.
Cruz, who last won the Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy with California Memory in 2011, is also represented by Beauty Joy and Ka Ying Star in a contest featuring last's season winner Panfield and two other Group 1 winners – Waikuku and Russian Emperor.
“Beauty Joy is ready for this race. Luke Currie is riding him for the first time and he's not an easy horse to ride. He's got to have the horse settled and the pace has to be really on for him – he's got to have everything going his way. I believe he will be motoring on,” Cruz said.
“He's definitely got the ability and I think he needs a mile now. I think he can run 2000m. California Spangle going to the front, the pace will be sure to be on and they'll definitely be running a smart time. Luke's got to cover him up and he'll be motoring home – I'm sure it will be a close finish.”
Ka Ying Star, who will be partnered by Luke Ferraris, finished fifth in this race last year behind Panfield after leading and Cruz is optimistic the seven-year-old can perform well.
Lucky With You is potentially on trial for higher targets for David Hayes when the sprinter runs in the Class 2 Franck Muller Excellent Handicap (1200m) under Purton.
“He'd have to be very impressive on Sunday – it's a big step – but if he won, we might have a crack at the (Group 2 BOCHK Private Banking) Jockey Club Sprint (1200m) on November 20 to see where he's at,” said Hayes, who is second in the trainers' championship behind Cruz.
“He's probably improved. The first win was full of merit because he raced without cover on the outside rail and he's a horse that probably finds three or four lengths if he's got a horse to follow. From barrier seven, it won't be easy for Zac but if he gets a little bit of cover, he'll be very competitive.”
Purton also reunites with last-start winner Tuchel in the Class 3 IWC Schaffhausen Excellent Handicap (1400m), hopeful John Size's gelding can continue to progress towards the Four-Year-Old Classic Series next year.
“He's certainly progressive and he hasn't reached his ceiling yet, so he'll get his chance. John will take him slow and steady and he'll get his chance,” Purton said.
“I think he did a really good job (last start) and especially for one of John's, first time out. He travelled nicely in the race and when the gap presented itself, he let down nicely and it was a good effort.
“He should be able to carry the weight (133lb) and the handicap shouldn't slow him down yet. He feels like he's got more points in hand. He's a big horse, so he should have improved from that run. It's not an easy race, but he'll get his chance again.”