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When Tony Cruz met the Queen: Hong Kong legends recall the day Queen Elizabeth came to Sha Tin

Tony Cruz’s most prized possession – a letter from Queen Elizabeth – was stolen in a 2004 robbery but the legendary jockey and trainer still has the memories of The Queen’s two visits to the races in Hong Kong.

Tony Cruz meets Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1986. (Photo: HKJC)

Anytime Tony Cruz recalls a 2004 robbery at his home in Hong Kong, he never talks about the injuries he sustained, stolen cash or expensive jewellery he lost, but he always rues that a letter he had received from Queen Elizabeth II had been stolen.

“That letter was irreplaceable to me, one of my most cherished possessions,” Cruz said as he, like many in racing, reflected on the death of racing’s most famous supporter at age 96, on Friday. “I kept the letter in my safe because it was so important to me, but they took the whole safe.”

Cruz had first met Her Majesty when she visited Sha Tin Racecourse in October 1986, the second time she had been racing during her reign after attending the inaugural QEII Cup at Happy Valley in 1975.

“That day is 1986 was memorable, I rode a winner in the race prior to the QEII Cup, which was obviously held in her honour on that day, and then I was presented to the Queen,” said Cruz, who by that time was not only a homegrown star – riding for what was then known as the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, but had achieved great success riding in Europe.

“She knew me from riding the champion filly Triptych, whom I had just won the first of two Champion Stakes on, and she wanted to know all about her. Like a lot of people have been saying, the Queen really did love her racing and she knew her stuff.”

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Queen Elizabeth II visits Sha Tin Racecourse in 1986. (Photo by John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images)

Cruz believes that encounter led to him being booked to ride an Ian Balding-trained filly named Harmonious at Pontefract.

“It was number seven, in race seven and drew barrier seven,” Cruz said. But of all the memories Cruz can recall from that day – the 65-year-old is razor sharp with his recollections – it is the immense pride he felt at donning the Queen’s iconic silks.

“It was a big deal for me, coming from Hong Kong to do what I did, and I’m glad my wife Paulene was there to share that moment with me. There were no camera phones or internet so a lot of it is just memories,” he said. “I have wonderful memories of when the Queen came to the races in Hong Kong as well.”

Queen Elizabeth II presents an award to jockey Tony Chan on her visit to Sha Tin in 1986. (Photo by John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images)

Queen Elizabeth made two visits to Hong Kong's racetracks, once in 1986 and once in 1975. (Photo by John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images)

The first occasion the Queen attended the races in Hong Kong as at Happy Valley in 1975 when Nazakat won the inaugural QEII Cup, which was a Class 2 held on the inner sand track.

John Moore was the reigning champion trainer at the start of the 1986 season and has his own story about a letter to, and from, The Queen.

“I met Her Majesty that day in 1986, and she asked about my father George, who has recently retired as a trainer and who had ridden for her,” Moore said. “Dad had actually written to her once, apologising for being beaten on one of her horses in France, and she had written back. We still have her letter, which is essentially saying, ‘that’s racing’, it was very gracious of her.

“It is very sad to lose such a big supporter of the sport.”

HKJC chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, in his role as International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (IFHA) chairman, issued a statement on the day of Queen Elizabeth’s passing.

“Her Majesty’s contributions to racing were matched only by her enthusiasm for the sport and her love of the horse,” he said.

“As a successful owner and breeder, she understood the challenges and the joys of the sport on a personal level. A number of the most prestigious races in the world are named in her honour, and over the course of her life she attended race meetings at many of the major racecourses around the globe. She will be greatly missed.”

Queen Elizabeth visits a market stall during her 1975 royal tour of Hong Kong. (Photo by George Freston/Fox Photos/Getty Images).

Queen Elizabeth’s death has been recognised in Hong Kong, which was a British colony for 150 years until 1997, with the placement of flowers outside of the British Consulate.

For many racing fans – or fans at heart like Cruz – Queen Elizabeth’s passing was more than a loss of a statesperson, or even a prominent owner and breeder, but the loss of one of them; a fan of the sport.

“That is what I will remember most about her, that she really loved racing,” Cruz said. “She loved the sport and was a lovely person.”

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