04/09/2016 1:23PM

Kid Cruz stays closer early to win Excelsior Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Kid Cruz (left), ridden by Jose Ortiz, wins the Grade 3 Excelsior Stakes by half a length Saturday.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Kid Cruz has shed his reputation as a one-run closer and in the process is starting to win races again.

For the second straight race, Kid Cruz was kept much closer to the pace by jockey Jose Ortiz than he was in the past, and for the second straight race, he was able to pull out a half-length victory, this time outfinishing Madefromlucky in Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Excelsior Stakes at rainy, raw Aqueduct.

Madefromlucky, who set the pace, finished second by 6 3/4 lengths over Turco Bravo. Norumbega was fourth, followed by Good Luck Gus, who broke through the starting gate prerace.

The win was the seventh from 19 starts for Kid Cruz, a 5 year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid owned by Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds and Black Swan Stable and trained by Linda Rice. In his previous start, Kid Cruz won the John Campbell Stakes at Laurel Park.

In the Campbell, Kid Cruz lay within three lengths of the early lead. In many of his previous races, he was kept well back off the pace and came with a closing kick. But he had lost nine consecutive races before his victory in the Campbell.

“He was running too far back, then we’d make our move, and we couldn’t catch up in the end,” Ortiz said. “I decided this year to put him closer, and it’s paid off.”

On paper, there didn’t appear to be any pace in the Excelsior. Madefromlucky, under John Velazquez, dictated the pace, running a quarter in 24.15 seconds, a half-mile in 49.13, and six furlongs in 1:13.03 while stalked by Good Luck Gus.

Kid Cruz was within 1 1/2 lengths of the lead in third before Ortiz had him on the move between horses entering the turn. Kid Cruz moved into second around the turn, crept up alongside Madefromlucky at the quarter pole, and was able to edge clear from that rival inside the sixteenth despite Ortiz dropping the reins.

“Last time, I put him close to the lead at Laurel, so I tried to do the same thing today,” Ortiz said.

The conditions on Saturday were rainy and raw, and Ortiz said his hand froze, which led him to drop the rein.

“It’s a little bit cold and wet, and my hand got a little cold,” Ortiz said. “When I lost my rein, I had the race won, but I tried to keep hitting him.”

Kid Cruz covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.52 over a track labeled “fast.” He returned $5 to win.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s a lot of pace or no pace, you still have to ride him damn near every step of the way,” Rice said. “That’s just the way he is. Jose’s got enough experience on him to accommodate that.”