01/06/2015 2:18PM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Angel Cruz

Tom Keyser

Angel Cruz ranked among North America’s leading first-year riders in 2014, with 119 wins from 781 starts for mount earnings of $2,586,378. On the strength of such numbers, he is an Eclipse Award finalist for outstanding apprentice jockey. The recognition is not lost on Cruz, a 19-year-old native of Puerto Rico.

“Oh, man, I accomplished a lot,” Cruz said when asked to reflect on his rookie year. “When I started, nobody believed in me but my grandmother and my stepfather. I kept working harder and harder every day, listened to riders, and got better and better.”

Cruz’s first career win came April 8 at Charles Town in West Virginia. He’s also ridden at Laurel Park in Maryland, where he grew up, and is now based at Aqueduct in New York.

“He was second in the standings at Laurel when he left and came to New York,” said Cruz’s agent, Bill Castle.

Cruz has been a strong fit at Aqueduct, where he ranked eighth in the overall standings through Dec. 31. Among his favorite mounts to date have been Socialsaul, a blowout winner at Aqueduct on Dec. 7, and Artemus Paperboy, a hard-knocking claimer with whom Cruz has won three straight races at Aqueduct, including two in 2014.

The seeds for a career in racing were planted early in Cruz’s life.

“My uncle was a jockey, and my grandfather always took me with him to see my uncle ride,” Cruz said.
Cruz’s uncle is the retired Joel Hiraldo. Cruz said his grandfather, Jose Hiraldo, also was a jockey. Cruz has his apprentice allowance through May 2.