06/03/2011 12:17PM

Churchill Downs: Cruz making an impact outside Florida, thanks to McPeek

Jim Lisa
Jockey Manny Cruz, a long-time top rider in Florida, where his more than 2,400 victories include last summer's Birdonthewire aboard Uno Caliente, is riding at Churchill Downs for the first time this spring.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Most of the veterans in the Churchill Downs jockey colony have been riding here for years. One notable exception at the 2011 spring meet is Manny Cruz, a 41-year-old Brazilian who was a perennial leading rider at Calder in south Florida before deciding to ride regularly here for the first time.

As the 39-day meet hit its midpoint Friday, business at Churchill has picked up noticeably for Cruz, who has earned meet titles at Calder and Tampa Bay Downs since he moved to the United States in 2000. He has won more than 2,400 races in North America, the vast majority of them at Calder.

Cruz said he had been eager for several years to try a northern circuit when trainer Ken McPeek, who campaigns each winter at Gulfstream Park, told him he would use him extensively if he came here. Cruz said leaving his two sons, ages 9 and 7, in Florida has been difficult, but he felt his career would benefit with the move.

“Manny is a very good rider,” said McPeek. “The only reason he’s not more well known nationally is because he never left south Florida. He’s a consummate pro who works hard. He’s a very good horseman, and he taught me my first words in Brazilian Portuguese: ‘Nunca compre um cavalo lento.’” (Translation: “Never buy a slow horse.”)

“I consider him a friend,” said McPeek.

Cruz, who won with 6 of his first 52 starts at the meet, is named to ride in eight races both Saturday and Sunday.

Cruz’s agent, Steve Elzey, said they are thinking about trying Saratoga after Churchill ends July 4 but that they also may wind up at Ellis Park.

Fans in Arkansas honor Archarcharch

Archarcharch, the Arkansas Derby winner who was retired after being injured in the Kentucky Derby, is being honored this week in Jacksonville, Ark., hometown of the colt’s owners, Bob and Val Yagos.

A billboard sign entering town, scheduled to go up Friday, celebrates the feats of Archarcharch and the local high school championship baseball team in the north Little Rock suburb of 30,000.

In addition, a big party in honor of Archarcharch is scheduled for Thursday in the town.

“It’s been something else,” said Bob Yagos. “We probably still get 10 phone calls a day with people wanting to see how the horse is doing. The state of Arkansas loves its horse racing, and they’ve really taken to this horse. We’re just overwhelmed.”

Archarcharch sustained a fractured left front leg during the May 7 Derby, and although the injury was stabilized, it was considered too severe to attempt to bring him back to race. Archarcharch will begin stud duty in 2012 at Spendthrift Farm in Lexington.

“He’s already at Spendthrift, booked to 40 mares for next year,” said Jinks Fires, the Churchill-based trainer who conditioned Archarcharch. “I went over to see him just the other day, and he’s doing good. He’s getting out to graze a couple times a day and is getting around fairly well. He’s going to be all right.”

◗ Midwest Thoroughbreds, the leading owner in North America in 2010, has become quite a presence at this meet since giving Brad Cox a barnful to train in late April. Owned by Richard and Karen Papiese of Chicago, Midwest had taken a slim lead atop the spring-meet owner standings with five wins heading into Friday action while ranking among the top owners in starts.