It was after 11pm when Douglas Whyte walked quietly away from his final night as a jockey at Happy Valley on Wednesday (30 January).
The brilliant lights which illuminated so many of his 572 successes at the world’s most famous city track had dimmed but nothing could extinguish the vivid memories of an evening in which racing fans, young and old, saluted the most dominant rider in Hong Kong racing history.
“I’m going to miss the electricity of Happy Valley,” he said. “It’s been a long time and it’s moulded into me now – it’s in my blood.”
Whyte came into his Valley swansong unsure about how he would feel on his final night but one thing that was never in doubt was the warmth of the welcome awaiting him.
Veteran Hong Kong punters jostled for room at the far end of the paddock to get a final Valley glimpse of the man who has been a constant in their racing lives for three decades.
Tipsy twentysomethings from all over the world gathered six deep on the rails of a packed Beer Garden to high five a man who left South Africa to seek fame and fortune in Hong Kong before many of them were born.
Owners, trainers and officials all took their chance to wish him well as the evening progressed and Whyte’s fellow riders – headed by Zac Purton and Joao Moreira – formed a guard of honour to welcome him back to the weighing room.
“It’s very special for the boys to welcome me like that,” he added. They are very tough competitors and for them to show their respect like that means a lot.”