Updated on 09/16/2011 8:46AM

Cruz riding better than ever at 37


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Fans and horsemen at Monmouth Park are taking notice. Jockey Carlos Cruz is having a breakout season.

At age 37, Cruz is having the best meet of his 18-year career. After winning just six races last year in his first full season riding at Monmouth, he has nearly tripled his success with 17 wins through last weekend, putting him into a tie for seventh in the jockey standings. Formerly a summer regular at Philadelphia Park, Cruz has made the transition to the big time at the Jersey Shore.

Cruz has been picking up better mounts and more business lately. He now rides many horses for the hot barns of Phil and Vicki Oliver, and Joe Pierce. It has been his first-call riding commitment for trainer Dennis Manning, however, that has been vital to Cruz's success this meet. Manning, with seven wins, is tied with eight others for sixth in the trainer standings.

Cruz met Manning in February in Ocala, Fla. Manning liked the way Cruz rode and asked him to be his first-call rider at Monmouth.

"I really appreciate what Dennis has done for me," Cruz said. "He's helped me get adjusted to the meet and everything has come out great so far."

Cruz said he was nervous heading into the meet, because he had not ridden in five months since riding at Tampa Bay Downs and briefly at Gulfstream Park last winter. He said he took off that time to rest and prepare for the Monmouth meeting. The move has clearly paid dividends as Cruz seems a revitalized rider this summer.

"I'm a more mature rider now," Cruz said. "I've put everything behind me and work harder now than I ever have."

Cruz added that he sees his riding career much more clearly now, and that he feels this is his time to distinguish himself at the consistently competitive Monmouth meet.

"This is a tough meet every year; if you're not on top of your game, nobody will ride you," Cruz said. "I've been very happy with myself so far and I have been competing with all the big riders."

In recent weeks, Cruz's specialty has seemed to be riding on the turf course. With the Oliver barn having success on the grass, Cruz is a match for their horses. Last Saturday, he finished second aboard the Vicki Oliver-trained Once Around in the $50,000 Twin Light Stakes.

"He's a strong rider, rides a good race, and fits our horses well," Phil Oliver said.

Haskell hopefuls in Long Branch

With War Emblem already pointing for the $1 million, Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on Aug. 4, some of his challengers in the premier race of the meet will come into focus this Saturday in the Haskell prep, the Long Branch Breeders' Cup.

In the past eight years, three winners of the $100,000 Long Branch, a Grade 3 this year, have gone on to run second in the Haskell. In the 2001 Haskell, Burning Roma took the Long Branch en route to a third-place finish, just beaten for second, behind Point Given.

This year's Long Branch is shaping up as a solid race and could produce a couple of Haskell starters. Two horses preparing to run in the Long Branch - Running Tide and Stephentown - should be favored on Saturday.

Running Tide, trained by Rodney Jenkins, is undefeated in five career starts. He won the Legal Light Stakes at Delaware, defeating Boston Common, eventual winner of the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup here July 4. In his last start, Running Tide won the Grade 3 Leonard Richards at Delaware. In the Leonard Richards, he defeated the Nick Zito-trained Nothing Flat, who was a late-closing second in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont last Sunday. Nothing Flat, Zito said, will be pointed to the Haskell.

The Anthony Reinstedler-trained Stephentown was a Derby hopeful early in the year at Gulfstream Park, but he finished sixth as the second choice in the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth and scratched out of the Florida Derby. In his last start, at Churchill Downs on June 15, Stephentown ran second as the 6-5 favorite in the $100,000 Northern Dancer Stakes.

Eatontown next for 'Innocent'

Presumed Innocent, winner of a money allowance on the turf here last Friday, will make her next start in the Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap on Aug. 4.

Presumed Innocent, a 5-year-old trained by Chuck Simon and owned by Anthony and Kathleen Perrotta of Cornerstone Stable, was making her second start off an extended layoff. Unlike in her first race back, in which she ran fast early and then tired, on Friday Presumed Innocent set moderate fractions under jockey Eddie King in a one-mile race for fillies and mares, and had enough left in the tank to fight off challengers in the stretch.

Anthony Perrotta said Presumed Innocent had popped a small quarter crack 10 days before the race, but she had trained fine with it before the race and they decided to run her. Clearly, she was not affected by it.

The Eatontown is a race her owners have been pointing for since the spring, and Perrotta said he is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get Presumed Innocent her first stakes score.

"Four weeks is ample time to have her ready for the Eatontown," Perrotta said. "She came out of the race great and Eddie said he finished with plenty in the tank."

* Asarule leads a field of 10 in the Thursday feature, a first-level optional claimer at 11 furlongs on the turf. Trained by Michael Dickinson, the 4-year-old Asarule has run fourth in two allowance races at Belmont this year. He should enjoy the drop in class Thursday.