Mount Joy Stables' Smooth Air will be Manoel Cruz's first Derby mount—and should he win, the race would be his first grade I victory. Thus far, his most significant win has come in the 2006 running of the $200,000 Shirley Jones Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) aboard Splendid Blended.
Cruz came to the U.S. just eight years ago, and since then has become a popular fixture on the Florida riding circuit. An accomplished horseman, he got his start riding jumpers in Brazil before graduating at age 16 from his country's jockey school. He had numerous riding titles and more than 1,200 wins at Hipodromo Cidade Jardim in San Paulo, Brazil, before launching his North American riding career. He was leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs in 2002 and leading rider at Calder in 2006.
Career Wins: 1,761
Born: May 20, 1970, Ninas Gerais, Brazil
Residence: Miami, Fla.
Family: wife Sirlene; sons Victor Manoel and Brian
Favorite sport: "I like fishing, to relax, or driving race cars, for the adrenaline. I also like to sing in Portuguese, not professionally, just if somebody asks. I play soccer on the beach, and enjoy being close to the water, so when I'm not riding horses, I'm probably doing some of this stuff."
Favorite food: "I have to control my diet, so I eat salad, chicken fillets, and fish fillets. Not much pork or red steak, I’m taking care of my body. Grilled chicken is light and good."
Most hated chore: "I’m very, very organized. I guess my least favorite thing would be cleaning the garage, because you always drop everything in there, and I don't like things to be out of order."
I can't live without: "My laptop. I can send e-mail, see movies, listen to music, and talk to people all by using it."
What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven? "Oh, my goodness. Well, right now I’m smarter, but before when I'm about 20 or 21, I go 200 kilometers in Brazil, which would be about 140 miles per hour. I'm young, the car is new, the highway, nobody there, I start thinking, 'If I was to go fast, nobody would catch me...' It was a nice car. Now I still drive fast, but only race cars on the racetrack."
Another active rider I admire is: "Ah, here is how you answer this question. 'I really don’t have one, because there are a lot of good riders, I could tell you 10 names like Prado, Velazquez, Gomez, blah-blah-blah, there’s a lot of good jockeys. It’s hard to pick one; I don’t have one favorite. I don’t have one, maybe 20.' That's how you answer that question without making anybody mad."
If I could trade careers with one pro athlete, I would: "Trade with a professional pilot, actually. I think I'd really like to learn about how to fly an airplane."
One thing I wish people knew about jockeys: “We give up a lot to maintain our careers."
The best part about winning the Derby this year would be: "Winning for my family. I have two sons, and I can't tell you I'm a good daddy, but I try. My kids give up a lot for me, and my own daddy, who has passed away, had a lot of admiration for myself. So both of them are very, very important."