By Hans Ebert
When Douglas Whyte rode the first winner of the day at Sha Tin yesterday, it was one of those moments in time that made my mind wander. It was a lowly Class 5 event, but it was a reminder of not only everything Douglas Whyte has accomplished as a Group 1 winning jockey, but everything he has seen and quietly carries with him along with the way he has always conducted himself- with great professionalism. It’s a quiet dignity from a class act.
So, with the twentieth anniversary of The Handover being on July 1, when it came to asking someone to name their top 20 champion Hong Kong horses, the first person that came to mind was Douglas Whyte, the winner of the Hong Kong Jockey Premiership for thirteen consecutive years- a record that will stand forever- and who has ridden for the legend that was trainer Ivan Allan, plus David Hayes, John Size, John Moore,Tony Cruz and many others.
Just think of the great horses that he has won on going back to London News, the champion South African galloper who introduced Hong Kong racing fans to this incredible rider and consummate professional nicknamed “The Durban Demon” by winning the QE11 Cup in 1997.
As this city approaches the twentieth anniversary of The Handover, what needs reminding is just how much horse racing and the sport’s racing heroes are part of the social fabric of Hong Kong.
It’s much more than gambling for a few hours a week on which of your choices will come first. Horse racing gives this city a heartbeat. It is something to discuss with everyone from all walks of life and to exchange stories. Horse racing, on and off the track, is part of many of our back stories. And the history of horse racing in Hong Kong is part of our studies.
As Hunter S Thompson would write, What a long, strange trip it’s been since that rainy day in 1997 when many of us said goodbye to Governor Chris Patton and his family.
We might have expected the worst, but the darkness many predicted never cast its gloom over Hong Kong. And through these twenty years has been the horse racing- a release from getting caught up in a daily grind and being hamsters on a treadmill, and with racing heroes to break the chains of monotony.
We will never see another Co-Tack, the champion galloper from the early Eighties trained by Wong Tang-pin, known as Brash Prince in Australia and purchases for AUS$20,000 just for his two owners to say they had a horse. The freakish Co-Tack won on every type of going, and carrying the heaviest of weights- 154 pounds with a then young jockey named Tony Cruz guiding him to his more illustrious victories- and for a pittance in prize money, something Tony will be more than happy to emphasise.
In more recent times, we have been lucky enough to see the much too short-lived flashes of brilliance from Able Friend and Rapper Dragon. And before them were those marvellous equine heroes who somehow gave this city the inspiration and motivation that it needed- Silent Witness, who got us through the SARS crisis that crippled this city, Viva Pataca, Good Ba Ba, and Vengeance Of Rain, below.
Through it all, there’s been Douglas Whyte taking on all comers and being his own man. He still is at a time in his life when he can retire and live very comfortably. Why continue riding? Because he can. Only the most churlish would not acknowledge and respect everything this South African rider has accomplished.
So, as we get ready to celebrate Reunification Day on July 1, let’s also celebrate and honour the strength and inner resolve of twenty of Hong Kong’s champion racehorses. They gave us their all. What’s wonderful is knowing that some are still with us and enjoying their retirement at the aptly named Living Legends in Melbourne, where the great Silent Witness, below with regular rider Felix Coetzee, remains the king of all he surveys.
Below is Douglas Whyte’s list of his Top 20 Champion horses. If there’s any horse whose name should be added, let us know.
1. ORIENTAL EXPRESS
3. SILENT WITNESS
4. ELECTRONIC UNICORN
5. VIVA PATACA
6. ABLE ONE
7. GOOD BA BA
8. LUCKY NINE
9. SACRED KINGDOM
10. VENGEANCE OF RAIN
11. AKEED MOFEED
12. ABLE FRIEND
13. AMBITIOUS DRAGON
14. LUCKY OWNERS
17. RAPPER DRAGON
18. MILITARY ATTACK
19. GLORIOUS DAYS
20. DESIGNS ON ROME