04/20/2011 4:30PM

Cruz opts for Kentucky over Calder; will ride for McPeek


Manny Cruz is planning to move his tack to Kentucky at the conclusion of the current meet on Sunday. Cruz is a six-time Calder and Tropical at Calder riding champion and has been a mainstay at or near the top of the jockey standings at Calder for nearly a decade.

“I was going to stay and ride the opening week at Calder but those plans changed because my new agent at Churchill Downs wants me there by the 25th or 26th,” said Cruz, whose engagements in Kentucky will be handled by Steve Elzey.

Cruz said he’s been anxious to try his hand on one of the major northern circuits for the past several years and finally found the impetus to make the move after trainer Ken McPeek asked him to ride first call for him when Churchill Downs opens next Saturday.

“I like this place and it’s hard to leave Calder,” said Cruz. “Everybody there has been good to me, the trainers, the other riders and of course my agent, Gil Graell. But Ken McPeek has opened the door and given me the opportunity to make the change. He’s the one who helped me decide to make the move now.”

Cruz said leaving his family, including his 7-year-old son Victor and 9-year-old son Bryan, will be tough. But they are also part of the impetus for his choice to try Kentucky.

“These boys are the reason I want to try even harder and make it in Kentucky,” said Cruz. “They’re the ones who give me the push.”

Walder returning to Monmouth

Trainer Peter Walder will be returning to Monmouth Park this summer after a four-year absence. Walder, among the leading win-percentage trainers in the country year in and year out, spent nine seasons at the Jersey Shore track before moving his stable to Arlington Park in 2007 and then Delaware Park each of the last three summers.

“Most of my owners are from the New York and New Jersey area and I have made a point of claiming the types of horses this winter who can be competitive at Monmouth,” said Walder, who was consistently among the top 10 trainers during his nine-year tenure at Monmouth. “The condition book there is a lot more conducive to my stable right now than Delaware Park.”

Walder, who owns a gaudy 25 percent career win rate, has sent out 13 winners from 58 starters during the 2011 Gulfstream meet. The Montreal native, who will have from 30 to 35 horses at Monmouth, was the subject of a popular weekly blog that ran throughout the meet on the Gulfstream Park website.

Watch Me Go works five furlongs

Watch Me Go worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 at Tampa Bay Downs on Wednesday. Watch Me Go, winner of the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby, will point to the Kentucky Derby his trainer Kathleen O’Connell confirmed on Tuesday.
“He worked good and galloped out great,” said O’Connell, who has never started a horse in the Derby before.

O’Connell said Wednesday she was still in the process of finalizing Watch Me Go’s shipping plans to Kentucky.

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