Whyte looks to roll on at Happy Valley, The Irishman gears up for Classic Cup
Douglas Whyte is an iconic figure of Hong Kong racing – his pertinacity and supreme riding ability rewarded him with 13 consecutive champion jockey titles as well as HK$1.5 billion in stakes – and, now as a trainer – in just his third season of handling – the South African has quickly become an imposing figure among the training ranks.
Armed with a potent team behind him and fresh from two Group 1 victories across the last month, the 50-year-old – who has long called Hong Kong home – is not about to idle away on recent success as he prepares a formidable team of eight for Happy Valley’s nine-race fixture this evening (Wednesday, 23 February).
“Any Group 1 is a highlight in anyone’s career, and I’ve won both of those races (Centenary Sprint Cup and Hong Kong Gold Cup) as a jockey and now to do it as a trainer is absolutely fantastic,” Whyte said.
Stronger provided Whyte with a maiden top-level crown in the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) last month, while Russian Emperor led a one-two finish for the trainer in Sunday’s (20 February) G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).
“Russian Emperor has just gone to another level, he’s had a year to acclimatise, harden up and really get to learn the ins and outs of what’s expected in Hong Kong with the firm tracks and again, I just can’t be grateful enough to the owners for their patience,” Whyte said.
Whyte won the Centenary Sprint Cup (then the Centenary Cup) with Best Of The Best (2000), while he claimed the Hong Kong Gold Cup twice aboard two of Hong Kong’s all-time greats – Indigenous (1999) and Ambitious Dragon (2012).
This evening at the city circuit, Whyte’s entries include Harmony Fire, Carroll Street and Astrologer, who contests the Class 3 Sing Woo Handicap (1200m).
“He’s (Astrologer) in a rich vein of form, he’s gone back after winning and run well, he’s come back after that race and he remains in good health.
“He’s a pleasure to be around and to work with, he does everything that you ask of him and his work in the mornings has been satisfying,” Whyte said.
A three-year-old – Astrologer has raced five times in Hong Kong for two wins – including his surprise success four starts ago at 133/1 over 1000m at Happy Valley.
“He (Rewarding Together) looks the definite horse to beat – he looks like a young horse on the rise – I’m not saying that mine is not, but he does look a class above.
“I think the handicap as everyone knows will bring it into better contention, but I still do believe that Rewarding Together is the horse to beat – it is going to take a big effort from my horse to get over the top of him,” Whyte said.
Astrologer steps away from gate three under Alexis Badel against 11 others including Rewarding Together who chases a hat-trick of wins, but Whyte believes the persistent rain – which eased this afternoon – that Hong Kong faced since Saturday (19 February) will benefit his charge this evening.
“I think a bit of give in the ground will certainly benefit this horse as well,” Whyte said.
Tonight’s fixture sees the close of the DBS x Manulife Million Challenge and a win for Astrologer would lift him into contention for second or third place on 51 points.
This weekend, Whyte will be represented by Turin Redsun in the HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), facing the likes of Romantic Warrior, California Spangle, Senor Toba, Rocket Spade and The Irishman – who trainer Francis Lui believes is only going to improve ahead of next month’s HK$24 million BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) as he prepares for Sunday’s (27 February) HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m).
“At the moment, I am very happy with him (The Irishman), and I think he can continue to improve,” Lui said.
The Irishman has placed in all three of his Hong Kong runs – most recently finishing third in the HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) – leg one of the three-race Four-Year-Old Classic Series last month.
“He’s had enough experience, he just needs to settle a bit when he runs – he just wants to go a bit,” Lui said. “I think he just needs to settle and even in the gates he’s always a bit tense, so he just needs to relax a bit more.”
Prior to export, the four-year-old by Tavistock placed at Group 2 and Group 3 level in the Phar Lap Stakes (1500m) and Carbine Club Stakes (1600m) in Australia.
Wednesday’s (23 February) nine-race fixture at Happy Valley kicks off at 6.45pm with the Class 4 Yuk Sau Handicap (2200m).