There is no such thing as a sure thing in horse racing.
Any handicapper or person involved in the sport can tell you that. And it’s why what jockey Alex Cruz is doing day in and day out at Emerald Downs is so impressive.
Cruz has won at least one race on 44 consecutive racing days at Emerald Downs, with the first 25 coming last season. He has obliterated the previous record of 30, set by Kevin Radke in 2003.
“Any way you slice it, this streak is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Jon White, a Spokane native who is the morning-line maker at Santa Anita and Del Mar in California and a noted horse-racing historian. “Cruz’s agent (David “Marbles” Singer) also deserves considerable credit. To put this achievement into some perspective, it would be extremely difficult for a person to just pick at least one winner on 44 straight cards. It’s much more difficult for a jockey to put together such a long streak.”
Where it ranks nationally is unknown, as such stats are not always recorded. The closest comparison is a streak of 64 consecutive racing days with at least one win for Chris Antley, when he was often riding at two tracks a day — in New York and New Jersey — in 1989.
“I am going to put pressure on my agent, and let’s beat that guy,” said Cruz, 28, who was recently told of Antley’s feat. “I always put my 100% into the horse, and my agent is doing a good job getting me work. I try to do my best on the horses.”
Cruz will look to extend his streak this week at Emerald Downs, beginning Thursday night when he is scheduled to have six mounts.
He entered this season with the streak at 25 days, but it was in jeopardy on opening night when he entered the eighth and final race of the night without a win, having finished second in each of the first five races.
Cruz’s mount in that race, Queen Breezy, was not one of the favorites and was 5-1. The pressure was on.
“I was afraid, because I was so close (to the record),” Cruz said. “I was getting second and second and second, and I was, ‘Oh my gosh, I am going to lose this chance to beat the record.’ The horse (Queen Breezy) just took the lead, and he had never showed speed before … I crossed the wire, and I was just laughing. ‘How? How did I do this?’ “
Cruz, last year’s leading jockey at Emerald Downs, has not slowed since, and only one other time has he needed a win in the final race to keep the streak going. He is leading the standings again with 37 wins, five more than Julien Couton’s total.
Cruz, who has a 6-month-old boy, Cyan, with his longtime girlfriend, comes from a racing family in Puerto Rico. His father owns racehorses, and two brothers are trainers.
“They were telling me when I was young, ‘We’ve got the trainer, and we’ve got the owner, and now we need the rider,’ ” Cruz said.
The family has one now. Cruz started galloping horses when he was 17 and did that for three years before becoming a jockey.
He got his first victory at Finger Lakes racetrack in New York aboard a 51-1 shot in late 2013, but that was his only win in 50 mounts that year. Cruz continually improved in the following year, however, riding in Ohio, West Virginia, Massachusetts, California, Canada and elsewhere.
In 2019, he was the leading rider at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Manitoba, before an injury late in the season. He was the leading rider at Turf Paradise in Phoenix last year before the season ended early because of COVID-19.
Not long after, he got a call from Singer, asking him if he would like to ride at Emerald. He accepted but had no idea of the success to come.
“It was something I was never thinking was going to happen,” Cruz said. “I was a little afraid, because I had never been in this area and nobody knew me. I thought it was going to be a little hard for me to get business, but everything went perfect.”
Cruz said, like any jockey, he would love to compete at the game’s highest level and in the biggest races, “but I don’t what is going to happen tomorrow. We never know if tomorrow, or next year, if something happens.”
So Cruz said he will continue to ride hard and let the future take care of itself.
“I really enjoy this business no matter where I stop,” he said. “I like to win races. No matter where I am, I am just going to be the same guy and do my 100%.”
For 44 consecutive racing days, that has meant at least one win.