It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry, and, way too often, we forget that yesterday’s heroes, like yesterday’s news, are still relevant.
In the racing game- and often it’s a circus made up of sycophants and all those jugglers and clowns who, as Dylan sang, “do tricks for you”- we become too easily swept up in that sea of predictability by being lemmings and chanting the same words of some off-beat mantra sung by a choir of mockingbirds.
At Happy Valley Racecourse on Wednesday night, we sat and watched another show of strength from Joao Moreira who earned a hard fought treble. There was a very tough winning double by local rider Derek Leung where he outgunned no less than Moreira and Zac Purton in finishes, one stable got everything horribly wrong, whoever backed Win It from 25s to 9s got it all very right, and with the best saved for last. This was the ride of Douglas Whyte on a horse with enormous scope for improvement in Born In China. Of all the races run and won that night, Whyte’s ride was the classiest- cool, calm, collected, and what many of us have come to expect from this great South African jockey with thirteen consecutive Hong Kong Jockey Premierships to his name. Why on earth this accomplishment is not in the Guinness Book of World Records is baffling.
What no one can take away from Whyte are his remarkable successes in the saddle. And though times change and nothing stays forever, like Frankie Dettori, Whyte aka The Durban Demon, isn’t about to roll over and become Yesterday’s Man. That’s not part of the script.
The ride on Born In China oozed experience. It was not so much what he did, but what he did not do. He guided the horse first past the post instead of flogging it. Having worked out with trainer Francis Lui whatever chinks that might have needed ironing out, Whyte bounced the horse to the front and won with enough in hand, but without showing off too much. This was always his strong suit when part of that successful partnership with trainer John Size: To win with enough rating points in hand so there were 3-4 more wins in the hip pocket.
The Whyte Sized Years are part of Hong Kong’s racing history. There are some who would like to see those accomplishments erased, but that’s just being petty. It’s a stupid game of thrones played by those who have always wanted to see him knocked off his perch. That’s racing. That’s jealousy.
Since losing his thirteen year reign, much has been said about Douglas Whyte by naive pretenders to his throne- forgetting, and not acknowledging that incredible thirteen year reign.
To his credit, he has never risen to the bait. Talk is cheap and those that mouth off after being bitten by the fame bug often end with egg on their faces and their foot in their mouths with the need to furiously back-pedal to ingratiate themselves for their own tripped out version of Les Follies Bergere.
From the outside looking in, Douglas Whyte has nothing more to prove. Thirteen consecutive Hong Kong Jockey Premierships has made him a multi-millionaire many times over with a bungalow in Phuket- chump change- and a vineyard in Tuscany. Why does he keep riding? He’ll tell you it’s because of the “fire in his belly.” Maybe. A chicken vindaloo does that to me.
Though I have known this great rider for over a decade, we don’t know each other very well. Not really. It’s tough for someone who’s not in racing to fit into a jockey’s schedule. We have our own priorities and as Whyte has always said, “You can count your true friends on one hand minus a few fingers.” Totally agree. Perhaps we’re both complicated people with trust issues. This is especially true of the racing world where one has many “mates”, but very few real friends. Knowing what I do know about the man, however, from our many one-on-one conversations over the years is that he is guarded and fiercely competitive. Losing his father in a joke gone tragically wrong when he was nine, and the discipline instilled in him as an apprentice in South Africa might have something to do with what some mistake as arrogance. It’s not. It’s protecting one’s self, safeguarding his family’s past, present, and future, and guarding one’s turf. He also won’t settle for being second best- not after so many years spent getting the top of the tree- and staying there.
Watching him from the corner of my eye when then-newly crowned Champion Hong Kong Jockey Zac Purton was being interviewed by CNN before the races at Happy Valley, Douglas Whyte looked on, not with any jealousy, but with great determination. Elvis might have left the building munching a cheeseburger and abdicated his throne, but the thirteen-time champion was not about to allow the Fat Lady to even clear her throat.
Horse racing is a surreal merry go round. For Douglas Whyte, some of those all-important partnerships are now gone. They probably had outlived their usefulness where one is only as good as that last win, and loyalty and trust often mean precious little. It’s nothing personal, its business. And the politics that go with the big business racing world of Hong Kong.
That win of Douglas Whyte aboard Born In China showed that he’s not about to sing Knocking On Heaven’s Door and asking mama to “take these guns off of me, cos I can’t use them anymore.” Douglas Whyte’s guns are his experience. He’s seen it all and is impressed by very little. Many don’t like that- his nonchalance and confidence. It’s those few things still needed to complete his resume that keep him going.
Despite the arrival of Joao Moreira, and, with it, the end of his partnership with John Size, he achieved immediate Group 1 success for owner Pan Sutong and trainer Richard Gibson with Akeed Mofeed. With Tony Cruz, he’s made Peniaphobia one of the highest rated sprinters in the world whereas word from Melbourne is that he could soon be riding the highly-touted galloper Alpine Eagle owned by world famous winemaker Wolf Blass.
Whatever he does, wherever he goes, it’s been one helluva journey for an unknown jockey who came third in his first ride in Hong Kong, served his “apprenticeship” under Basil Marcus when that South African jockey dominated Hong Kong racing before stepping out of the shadows, and creating his own slice of history- a fascinating chapter and verse of human resolve and downright inspiring determination in a sport where true heroes and role models are hard to find.
Douglas Whyte is a true hero, role model and has always been a great ambassador for Hong Kong racing. Often, I don’t think this has been recognised- his role and tremendous long service record in the success story of Hong Kong racing. Not really. This should be put right without being blinded by the Johnny-come-latelies who’ll take, seldom give, and leave when the sun sinks and the haystack starts to whittle down.