Douglas Whyte is fast-developing a reputation as a trainer capable of preparing young horses for early success and this Sunday (1 March) at Sha Tin three of his brightest prospects will take centre stage as they look to snap a “slow three weeks” for the stable.
“Every stable goes through that, every jockey goes through that and I remember it when I was riding,” Whyte said.
“A lot of our horses have caught up to their rating while some of our young horses are now ready to get going, but the patch has happened and now I’m ready to get back to winning races.”
Whyte, a legend of the Hong Kong jockeys’ room with 13 championships and 1,813 wins to his name, is currently sixth in the trainer’s premiership with 25 wins. The South African enjoyed a red hot two months across December and January with 15 wins before momentum slowed in February.
“I couldn’t be happier with my season, I’ve got some lovely horses as well as some untested horses at the moment – so I’m waiting for those to get out on the track,” Whyte said.
Sunday’s team of nine is spearheaded by young guns Inner Flame (129lb), Farhh Above (133lb) and Super Wealthy (123lb), the trio take their place in each of the final three races on the card with Alexis Badel booked to ride all three. The French ace’s short-term contract comes to a close this weekend.
That trio of horses has reaped seven wins from 10 starts between them, earning a mouth-watering HK$5,467,755 in the process, a figure they will look to build on this Sunday.
Inner Flame (129lb) is the first on show, tackling the Class 3 Kwai Shing Handicap (1200m) where the Zoustar gelding will aim to extend his unblemished record to four.
“He’s got to improve in order to be competitive with his rating now – ratings don’t lie and the handicapper knows that, so he’s going to have to improve to fill those shoes,” Whyte said.
The four-year-old commenced his career in Hong Kong off a mark of 52 but three wins have seen his rating climb to 74 with Whyte labelling his competitive spirit and fiery nature as contributing factors to the chestnut’s early success.
“I can’t fault him, I can’t tell you there’s been a huge improvement from his last run but what I can say is that he is fit, healthy and he’s ready to go back to the races – he doesn’t like to stay in his box too long, he gets angry and he’s competitive, he just loves to be out there,” the 48-year-old said.
Sunday’s test will see him attempt to defy the handicapper for the fourth time but he will need to do so from gate 12 against 13 rivals.
Farhh Above (133lb) steps out in Sunday’s penultimate event, the Class 3 Lai King Handicap (1400m) as he looks to atone for a luckless last run. The four-year-old was squeezed badly for room in the straight but managed to let down that day for dead-heat fourth.
“It wasn’t pretty to watch, it was hard to digest but that’s racing for you and let’s hope that he can redeem himself,” Whyte said.
“He’s pulled up well, he didn’t have a really hard run, he got knocked around a little bit which was a bit of a concern, however, thank goodness he’s pulled up ok and he’s working in good order.”
Trained by Francis Lui initially, the Farhh colt was an easy winner in Griffin grade before transferring to the Whyte stable at the start of the season. The bay resumed first-up for an impressive last-to-first score over 1200m before coming unstuck over 1400m last start.
“I haven’t jumped him out of the gates but he seems to come out on terms – I don’t think he wins the start but he seems to come out ok,” Whyte said, adding further, “he might have been a tad slow last time for some particular reason but he’s the kind of horse that comes from off the pace and I don’t think we’re going to change his racing pattern or manners just yet as he has an amazing turn of foot and I think that’s the key to him.”
Stablemate Smiling City (118lb) represents a dual-pronged attack for the stable in that contest. The four-year-old has failed to hit the board in five runs in Hong Kong after arriving as a two-time victor Down Under.
“He (Smiling City) can improve, he’s been a victim of circumstances his last two runs – he’s had awkward draws, he’s gone forward and there’s been no real tempo and he’s just folded up the last part. He works well in the mornings and I’m happy to see him back on the turf now over seven furlongs – hopefully he can run a cheeky race.”
The So You Think gelding will break from gate one in Sunday’s test with Matthew Chadwick in the plate for the first time.
Super Wealthy (123lb) caps a strong brigade of Douglas Whyte representatives as he searches for a hat-trick of wins in the Class 2 Cheung Shan Handicap (1400m).
“He’s improved, he’s a lovely individual – the penny’s dropped with him,” Whyte said.
The Epaulette gelding arrived in Hong Kong off the back of a maiden company on the Kensington track at Randwick, when previously known as Covert Operation under the care of Sydney-based trainer Jason Coyle.
He came here with a bit of a head strong case and he thought his mouth was the boss, so it’s taken a bit of time for him to realise that he can do things the right way and relax, I think his racing is indicating that and I think it’s time for him to now step up to seven furlongs.”
The galloper faces Class 2 for the first time after eight point rising win last time out, as part of the 17 in total he’s received since his arrival taking him to a high of 85.
“I’m not really concerned about the class, he is a classy individual himself, it’s more about him getting a comfortable run around and again, that his racing manners allow him to finish the race off,” Whyte said.
“I’m confident he’s in good shape, he’s a lovely horse, I’ve been on him for all of his gallops and he’s indicated to me that he’s improved from his last run.”
Super Wealthy faces a hot field of 14 in Sunday’s test, including Irish import Decrypt (131lb), Glorious Spectrum (125lb) who was a recent stable transfer to Ricky Yiu, as well as last-start winners Assimilate (120lb) and Super Star (122lb), who will be ridden by Karis Teetan for the first time since January 2019.
“I won on him in his Hong Kong debut and since then I always knew he had potential, so I’m happy to be back aboard him,” Teetan said, adding, “he steps up in class now but he looks like he’s doing everything right this season, his last win looked pretty strong and Tony (Millard) has him in good shape, so it’s a good race for him.”
Alexis Badel has enjoyed his best Hong Kong campaign to date with 25 wins, eight of which have come in tandem with Douglas Whyte, the most among any rider this season since the duo’s first pairing in November 2019 with Adonis.
“He will be missed, he’s got great hands and he’s a huge asset to Hong Kong because of that reason – there are very few jockeys who can run three-wide and still get their horses to pick up in the straight and he’s one of them,” Whyte said of the French ace.
The 30-year-old returns to France after fulfilling his fourth Hong Kong contract on Sunday with a full book of 10 rides, including four mounts for Douglas Whyte, also pairing with Relentless Me earlier.
“He doesn’t panic and he’s a lovely rider, we’ll be looking forward to when he does come back,” Whyte said.
Badel isn’t the only jockey whose contract ends at Sha Tin this Sunday: two-time South African champion jockey Lyle Hewitson also departs for Japan but insists he has unfinished business in Hong Kong.
“I’ve really enjoyed the experience of being in Hong Kong – it’s been tough that’s no secret but one thing I can say is it’s made me a better rider because you have to be more critical and improve on things that you wouldn’t have even noticed,” Hewitson said.
“If the call comes up in a couple of years then it’s an opportunity I will take with both hands. It’s unfinished business for me because I do want to succeed here and I will make the most of that opportunity should it arise.”
Sunday’s 10-race card commences at 12.15pm (AEDT 15:15) with the Class 4 Lei Muk Shue Handicap (1000m).
– News from Hong Kong Jockey Club