Royal Ascot beckons for Whyte's debut

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 April, 1997, 12:00am

South Africa's newest sporting idol, Douglas Whyte, is poised to make his English debut at the most glamorous meeting in the country's calendar, Royal Ascot.

Whyte, who rode London News into South African sporting history with his Queen Elizabeth II Cup victory at Sha Tin on Sunday, is the confirmed rider for the horse's early mid-summer engagements in England.

Whyte, who is currently the caretaker 'trainer' for London News, now in pre-export quarantine at Sha Tin, confirmed yesterday that the plan was definitely to run the horse at Royal Ascot.

'There are about five Group One races at Royal Ascot and they are working out which one to go for. I have spoken to the owner, Laurie Jaffee, who is now in Kuala Lumpur, and that is the way they are going.

'He has told me that he wants me to ride London News and it is now my intention to head for England as soon as the season ends here. Royal Ascot starts two days after we finish here so it is a rush job,' said Whyte.

London News is due to fly to England at the end of the first week in May, having spent 40 days in Hong Kong since first arriving here for his QEII Cup engagement.

He will be ridden out by Whyte during the remainder of the stay and he is also walking London News.

'Let's face it, he is one very important horse, so I want to keep a very close eye on him,' said Whyte, whose QEII Cup victory was the first success of a South African horse outside the country in more than 40 years.

And last night the odds were shortening on Epsom Derby-winning trainer William Haggas taking over the training of London News at Newmarket.

Earlier, it lay between Michael Stoute and Barry Hills, with the former seeming to have the edge, but owner Jaffee and current trainer Alec Laird have been discussing the issue.

Haggas is the son-in-law of the legendary Lester Piggott, a firm fan of London News, and the man who tipped it weeks ahead to win the QEII Cup. He is also a good friend of owner Jaffee.

Haggas does not have the same strength in depth as Stoute or Hills and the feeling is growing in the London News camp that the horse would get extra special treatment with Haggas. A final decision is expected shortly.

Jaffee and Laird are being kept informed of London News' condition while he remains in Hong Kong where he is also under close scrutiny from senior Jockey Club vet, Keith Watkins.

Meanwhile, overseas jockeys riding here next winter and in the month of February are likely to have their special licences extended by a day.

Next season the Hong Kong Derby, the richest domestic race in the calendar, will be run on March 1 - the latest it has been for years.

Normally, winter licences and any given for the month of February expire at the end of that month, which could leave Derby trainers struggling for top-line riders.