Whyte has the horse to break 13-year drought
Perennial champion jockey Douglas Whyte (right) goes back to where it all began for him in today's HK$14 million Audemars Piguet QE II Cup, hoping that in Ambitious Dragon he has the horse to break a 13-year spell.
Whyte's first two QE II Cup rides were winners on London News and Oriental Express, with the first of them a key moment both in the history of South African racing and one of its most enduring jockey exports.
After solid success in his first three-month Hong Kong stint at the end of 1996, the Durban Demon returned home only to be back in April to pilot London News on the day that horse became South Africa's first international winner.
'It's a win I'll never forget - I had the whole of South Africa behind me that day,' he recalled yesterday. 'Not many people know the difficulties that horse went through even to get here but he settled down well when he arrived and I still remember his final gallop, he worked unbelievably well. In the race, I was up handy, third I think, and it all unfolded perfectly. It was probably the most satisfying and emotional win I've ever had.'
And it was the launching pad for an institution in Hong Kong racing, as Whyte was asked to ride out the remainder of the season and has stayed ever since.
He won the race again the following year then finished second on Indigenous in 1999 but last year's third on Super Satin was the only placing since in a race where he has often had to make do with also-rans.
That won't be the case today as he renews his association with the favourite, Ambitious Dragon.
'I ran second on him last year as a three-year-old in Class Four and he gave me a nice feel even then, though he's come a long way,' Whyte said. 'When he moved to Tony Millard at the end of the season, I asked Tony if I could ride him. Well, it has taken a while but I've got back on Ambitious Dragon and I don't think there's a jockey who wouldn't want to be on him.'
Rival trainer John Moore is hoping that having history on his side is going to help his four runners keep the Derby winner at bay.
Vengeance Of Rain (2005) is the only Derby winner ever to complete the double into the QE II Cup and only he and Viva Pataca (2006) of the last ten Derby winners were able to win a subsequent race at all in their Derby season.
'There are several aspects to keeping them going after peaking for the Derby. One is the amount of racing they've had to do to get their rating up and get into the Derby, which is your main target,' Moore said. 'Anything after that is the cream on the cake so it's a case of knowing your horse and what you have left.
'Looking at Ambitious Dragon in the mornings, he appears very relaxed, very well and he has a real gloss in his coat. This is a harder race than the Derby but I'm sure he's the one we have to beat. Still, those statistics on the past Derby winners obviously aren't in his favour and all four of mine are in good form.'