Horse Racing
Happy Valley prepped and ready for one last Whyte night

By Graham Cunningham
29/01/2019 16:51

Douglas Whyte bids farewell to Happy Valley this Wednesday.
Douglas Whyte bids farewell to Happy Valley this Wednesday.

Anyone who has been to Paris on Prix de l‘Arc de Triomphe weekend will be familiar with the concept of Nuit Blanche – or White Night – a yearly cultural event which sees galleries and museums stay open round the clock to celebrate artists and their work.

A different type of artist will be honoured at Happy Valley this Wednesday (30 January) but a packed crowd will salute a very special “Whyte Night” as the most dominant jockey in Hong Kong history graces the city venue for the final time.

A week has passed since Douglas Whyte announced that he will retire from the saddle on 10 February to take up training, after a career which has spanned three decades and produced 13 consecutive Hong Kong championships and well over 1800 winners.

Almost 600 of those successes have come at the Valley and the Durban Demon admits that emotions will run high during a night designed to honour his record-breaking career.

“Since this has all been released it’s been like a roller-coaster!” Whyte said.

The South African, 47, has three rides at his downtown farewell and special plans will be in place for the last of those, which comes in race seven aboard the Tony Cruz-trained California Gungho. Win or lose, Whyte will trot his mount along the home straight after the race to salute the thousands of fans lining the running rail.

Whyte has long been renowned for his calm professionalism but admits he will be unsure what emotions will follow once he walks away from the Valley for the final time as a rider.

“Happy Valley is a unique track,” he reflected. “It’s very unforgiving and there’s no room for error but it’s a beautiful track to ride if you get into a rhythm and find the positions.

“One of my highlights there was riding a five-timer on one of the few Sunday meetings and winning the International Jockeys’ Championship three times is also definitely on the short list of very fond memories.

“This sort of thing doesn’t sink in until it’s all happened,” he added. “I’m not sure how it will feel – but I’m about to find out.”

A farewell Omen?

Good Omen gives Douglas Whyte his 1800th winner.
Good Omen gives Douglas Whyte his 1800th winner.

Whyte kicks off his night with newcomer Iron Bravo in the Class 4 Lambeth Handicap (1200m) and continues with Good Omen, who gave him a landmark 1800th success last October and returns to the Valley for the Class 2 Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1800m).

Good Omen (116lb) is fresh from a promising trial at the course and although he has finished behind rival Red Warrior (125lb) on both his last two starts, Whyte is optimistic that trainer Dennis Yip’s gelding is primed to peak again.

“Good Omen has been good to me,” Whyte said. “He’s been a work in progress but he’s matured along the way and got better.

“I was very happy with the way he won his last trial. He attacked the line and really knuckled down. The key to him is that he has to switch off and settle, but he’s in good form and if he gets into a rhythm then he’s capable of producing a really nice turn of foot.”

Country to city for the Million

Country Star looks to extend his lead in the Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge.
Country Star looks to extend his lead in the Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge.

There are a million reasons why trainer John Size and jockey Joao Moreira would like to see Country Star and Red Warrior excel at Happy Valley this Wednesday.

Size has seldom been a major factor in the Valley’s Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge – which offers a total of HK$1 million in prizes for horses who collect the most points from their finishing positions in Class 3 races and above at the venue – but has two of this year’s three leading contenders with just two qualifying fixtures to go.

Country Star (130lb) contests the concluding Class 2 Chater Handicap (1200m) having won four of six at the track and renews rivalry with Super Hoppy (126lb), Super Turbo (132lb), Telecom Brothers (122lb), Fantastic Feeling (121lb) and Keep Moving (118lb) after beating them three weeks ago.

“Country Star is an up and coming type and if he goes and wins again I wouldn’t be surprised based on the feel he gave me last time,” Moreira said.

“If you look back at his early races he was coming from behind but last time he was able to ping out of the stalls. No doubt he’s still learning – and we are learning about him – but I’m quite confident that he can do it again.”

Red Warrior sits third on the Million Challenge list – just two points behind Country Star – but a win in the Class 2 Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1800m) would make him top of the standings for at least an hour and boost his chance of lining up in the BMW Hong Kong Derby.

Moreira described Red Warrior as “a very solid, very consistent horse who should have a good chance again.”

And the Brazilian has no doubt about what Whyte has meant to Hong Kong racing over the last 23 years.

“All I can say is that Douglas is a legend,” he said. “Wednesday will be a special night and it will be a pleasure for us to be around him.”

Wednesday’s eight-race card, which will be the last Valley fixture until 13 February, gets under way at 7.15pm with the Class 5 Murray Handicap over 1200m.