Local jockeys have been feeling the heat for weeks, but Dec. 10 it was the world’s best that learned to understand and respect the incredible consistency of Douglas Whyte as that single attribute landed him his third Cathay Pacific International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley.
Although he went home without a winner against his name, the perfect placement of Whyte’s mounts in each of the three races earned him a total of 18 points and ultimately a two-point margin over Christophe Lemaire.
Whyte claimed, however, he should have won the final leg of the series (race 7) on the John Moore-trained Rewarding Star, who was run down in the final few strides by Lemaire on favorite Kenobe.
“I was in a perfect position on the home turn when the horse on my inside [Mainland Shuttle, ridden by Jamie Spencer] came out and checked my horse,” Whyte explained. “I know Kenobe has come from behind to beat us, but without that interference, Rewarding Star would have been off and gone and I doubt Kenobe would have caught us.”
Last year Whyte won the CXIJC for the second time, bring him level with Frankie Dettori, Andrasche Starke, and Olivier Peslier as the most successful riders in the history of the series, but last this year Whyte claimed the series as his own.
When asked if he could see himself returning next season and bidding for a winning hat-trick, and a fourth victory overall, Whyte was optimistic.
“I would love to be back at this time next year, and hopefully I’m riding in the same sort of form that warrants being invited,” he replied. “When we are out there against these very good jockeys from all around the world, we are representing Hong Kong, and to be able to do that is a real privilege.”
First blood in the series was drawn by American Cornelio Velasquez, whose mount Super Genki (13-1) stormed down the center of the track to score an upset win over Whyte on veteran Bobo Win, with Garrett Gomez gaining minor points on leader Classa Supreme.
In the middle round (race 5), Whyte gave favorite Royal Portrait the run of the race and the Peter Ho Leung-trained galloper looked like winning when he burst to the lead inside the 200 meters.
But, just as Whyte’s supporters were reaching for their tickets, Starke produced the Moore-trained Ever King (11-1) with a withering sprint down the center of the course to claim victory in the final few bounds.
It was a case of dejavu for Whyte as victory was ripped from his grasp for the third time in three races on Rewarding Star, but three sets of six points for each runner-up was sufficient to nail the title for the night, and the HK$200,000 first prize.
Lemaire was happy to walk away with the runner-up prize of HK$100,000 and to have won a race at Happy Valley at his first night riding at the idiosyncratic course.
"This is a great series and it was a real thrill for me to be a part of it," Lemaire said. "I was delighted to win the race on Kenobe and I'm very grateful to the trainer [Andreas Schutz] for having the horse in such wonderful order."
Hong Kong Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges was delighted with the night and the final turnover figure of HK$732.3 million, down 3% on last year, was in keeping with the trend of play for the season to date.
“It has been a wonderful night, with great competition out on the track and the jockeys have treated our customers to some top-class racing,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said. “The atmosphere all around the track was very good, there was a real buzz of excitement, so I think we can safely call the night a big success.”