by Murray Bell

Douglas Whyte aimed for a record and stole a title in a remarkable night of action at Happy Valley Racecourse Dec. 5, with an adoring public roaring their approval for the new Cathay Pacific International Jockeys Championship hero.

Whyte, representing Hong Kong, set the pace by winning the opening event in the three-rounder on Champion Lad, then followed up with a third and a fifth in the next two legs to hold off a rampaging Christophe Soumillon to claim the winner’s trophy and first prize of HK$200,000.

Later in the evening, Whyte completed a double on the John Size-trained Man In The Mirror, taking the rider to 946 wins in Hong Kong and equalling the all-time mark set by Tony Cruz 12 years ago.

It was Whyte’s second IJC title, having also taken the series in 2002. It was the 10th-annual IJC, an event that draws 12 riders from around the world, each competing in three races on random mounts. The jockey championship is a prelude to the Dec. 9 Cathay Pacific International Races at Sha Tin, which features such top names as Dylan Thomas and Miss Andretti.

Whyte said Champion Lad would have been one of his top picks in the race if he’d been able to select a ride himself, and he congratulated trainer John Moore on the way he handled the gelding’s preparation.

“I won the race last week on Lightning Speed, when Champion Lad ran second,” Whyte explained. “I thought it was a very good run, and perhaps a little unlucky. Backing up in the space of a week, he’s had a fitness advantage over a number of his rivals and that proved one of the crucial factors.

“They weren’t going that hard so I pulled out and got going around the 450 metres mark, and Champion Lad did the rest, he kept on very well.”

Soumillon, the brilliant Belgian riding ace, opened the competition right up by winning the second leg on heavily-bet Super Surprise ($53.50) for David Ferraris. But it was Whyte’s third placing on the Sean Woods-trained Vintage Gold ($76) that proved to be the series clincher.

“I had a fairly soft lead on Vintage Gold but he received a big of pressure from Vincere in the middle stages,” Whyte said. “Ultimately, Christophe has come up along the fence and finished a bit too strongly, but my fellow has boxed on well for third and I’m glad he did because those points were all-important.”

Vincere, ridden by Emma-Jayne Wilson, finished second, with the Canadian visitor becoming the first female jockey to compete at Happy Valley since Carol Yu Wing-see in 2000.

In the final leg, Whyte had to ride a high-percentage race on outsider Fujian Prince, who drew barrier 11 but ultimately worked home late off a fast pace to get third behind Dr Possi, ridden by Damien Oliver.

It was an admirable comeback from Oliver, who had a sickening fall on the home turn in the opening leg on Classa Win, trained by Peter Ho Leung.

“He was travelling into the race very well, in fact a bit too well because just as I was pulling to the outside, the horse in front of him just shifted a fraction and I’ve made a single clip on his heels, and come down,” Oliver explained.

“My first reaction was ‘oh no’ but after I hit the turf and rolled, everything seemed to be okay and I got up straight away. When something like that happens to a jockey, and you get up and walk away, you’ve had a lucky night.”

On Dr Possi, a consistent galloper trained by Dennis Yip Chor-hong, Oliver said he was always confident.

“The pace [set by Olivier Peslier on Classa Supreme] was very fast, but my bloke settled well and was always going to be the one to beat,” Oliver continued. “In the straight, it was just a matter of taking him to the outside and he did the rest.”

The Jockey Club enjoyed a banner night, with the attendance of 20,579 up slightly on 2006 figures and betting turnover up 7.6 per cent to HK$753 million.

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