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There’s tough racehorses, and then there’s Joy And Fun.
The globetrotting sprinter Joy And Fun was forged in the fires of one of the toughest racing jurisdictions of all, Hong Kong.
And while his body may have twice buckled under the weight of the blacksmith’s hammer – once with life-threatening consequences – his sheer competitive instinct remained unbowed.
For Trevor Cruz, the stable foreman who nursed the gelding during his recovery from a shattered cannon bone sustained in the 2010 G1 Golden Jubilee Stakes, Joy And Fun remains the rarest type of racehorse.
“Most horses, they have one little knock or setback and they just want to give up,” he told the Report from his family’s stables in Cambridge, New Zealand, where Joy And Fun himself resides in a quiet paddock with some other retirees.
“There’s none in him that gives up, ever, this horse. He just wants to run. You rarely find horses with that attitude that they just want to do it, no matter what happens.”
This will to overcome adversity was never more evident than at that Royal Ascot meeting, the third leg of an overseas raid that had first netted a victory in the inaugural G3 Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan and a sixth in Singapore’s G1 KrisFlyer Sprint, when Joy And Fun suffered a severe injury to his left front cannon bone approaching the 300m mark of the G1 Golden Jubilee.
“He was beaten just over five lengths that year with a fractured leg, so it goes to show just how big his heart was,” Cruz said.
“I remember (jockey) Brett Doyle saying he felt something in the last furlong and a half, but the horse just kept running.”
After Doyle eased back on Joy And Fun after the line, the horse was showing obvious signs of lameness upon his return to scale.
“We had a vet x-ray him on site and it showed a massive fracture. They essentially said the prognosis wasn’t good, and recommended we take him to another clinic nearby, where I think it was likely he would be put down.”
Cruz however sought a second opinion and rang his vet based at Newmarket, Richard Payne. Payne requested that the gelding’s injured leg be strapped up and he be transported to Newmarket that evening, with a view to possibly operating the next morning.
“Richard did a stand-up surgery on the leg and he put four screws in it before he flew off to his own wedding. It was very nice of him to stay and do that before we went!” Cruz laughed.
“There were literally four screws right from the bottom of his fetlock to the top of his cannon bone. That’s how long that fracture ran for, it was massive.”
Trevor, the son of Joy And Fun’s trainer Derek Cruz and nephew of champion trainer Tony Cruz, was already based in England at the time. So as the rest of the Cruz stable staff returned to Hong Kong, it was Trevor charged with the responsibility of overseeing the recovery process.
Those four long months were characterised by a bandage so thickly applied it more resembled a cast, and a complete retraining of even the most basic movements.
“I think he was boxed in total for something like two months before he could even have a first step outside,” said Cruz.
“It was virtually back to basics, I had to teach him how to walk again, put full weight on his leg and then use his leg, adjust to having a rider on.”
It was virtually back to basics, I had to teach him how to walk again.
“Eventually, after all that he got back to Hong Kong and believe it or not, won a Group 1.”
The road to that Group 1 however for the son of moderate Australian sire Cullen, featured other obstacles to go with the Royal Ascot disaster.
Once Champion Griffin of Hong Kong, having enjoyed a prolific first season in 2006/7 which netted five wins from nine starts, Joy And Fun was first derailed by a serious whither injury sustained during training in the horse walker, which saw him break six vertebrae.
The gelding recovered sufficiently to return for the following season, which netted two wins, before landing two Group 3 victories in 2008/9. The subsequent 2009/10 season was of course highlighted by the glory of Meydan, a high quickly tempered by the break down at Ascot.
After completing his lengthy Newmarket rehabilitation under Cruz’s eye, Joy And Fun would eventually make it back from England for the 2010/11 season, but was unplaced in all five runs. The injury had taken its toll, it appeared, and Joy And Fun would never be the same horse.
“The problem when he first went back was I think people were scared he was going to fracture or break his leg again, there wasn’t that confidence from jockeys and regular work riders in him to start with. The horse felt that too, I think,” he said.
“So my Dad jumped back on him and put the work back into him, and eventually the horse sort of realised he was okay. You need that level of confidence, from both horse and rider.”
And on the opening day of the Hong Kong 2011/12 season a rejuvenated Joy And Fun stepped out, with the battle-scarred gelding running right up to a strong barrier trial to defeat hot favourite Little Bridge in the Chief Executive’s Cup, with regular rider Brett Doyle up.
For Doyle, now retired and riding work at Ballydoyle for master trainer Aidan O’Brien, Joy And Fun was the defining partnership of his Hong Kong stint.
“He was a lot quicker than these European horses,” he chuckled to the Report.
“You need a flagbearer, especially in Hong Kong to keep you on the map, and he was a good one to have for the big races.
“He was placed in two big Group 1s, beaten a head by Lucky Nine in one of them, a nose by Eagle Regiment in the other, he was in the same era as Sacred Kingdom and beaten a couple of times by him too. He was tough and he was unique.”
Joy And Fun’s day in the Group 1 sun finally came in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize in February 2012. Against a strong field featuring among others Little Bridge, Lucky Nine, Sacred Kingdom and Eagle Regiment, Doyle held the whip aloft in his right hand as he and the sprinter sailed past the Sha Tin winning post three-quarters of a length clear.
“I hadn’t renewed my contract and I was leaving, but I was looking for that Group 1 win in Hong Kong, I’d had a few Group 2s and it was amazing that he was able to deliver that for me,” said Doyle.
Joy And Fun wouldn’t win again in eight subsequent career starts but the evergreen galloper still managed to acquit himself with distinction, placing in two more Al Quoz Sprints before bowing out with a ninth-placed finish in his fourth Al Quoz, at the ripe old age of ten in 2014.
Still going strong at 19, Joy And Fun is showing now ill-effects of the gruelling career that took him across the world and to the pinnacle of Hong Kong racing, if only for a day.
“The old-timer, he’s still trudging along the old boy,” said Cruz.
“He’s perfectly fine, he’s very quiet and happy out here.”
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