Champion jockey Douglas Whyte will take over as an eleventh-hour replacement on KrisFlyer Sprint winner Green Birdie in the HK$14 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint after Mark Du Plessis was injured in a fall in New Zealand yesterday.
Du Plessis was involved in a two-horse fall in a NZ$6,000 (HK$35,000) race at Tauranga and left the track in an ambulance, with initial reports indicating possible back injuries.
Trainer Caspar Fownes moved quickly to secure Whyte as a standby until he had more information but the 'Durban Demon' was confirmed last night as the new rider.
'It's a great shame for Mark because he won the race in Singapore and had formed a good relationship with the horse, but Douglas and I had some luck winning the Derby this year and perhaps we can do it again,' said Fownes.
The trainer had been vocal earlier in the week that his four international runners, including 2008 Sprint runner-up Green Birdie, had been suffering Rodney Dangerfield syndrome: getting no respect.
'I really feel that. All of them have shown they can mix it with the best and I know they are right on form but they have hardly got a mention.
'There is a tendency for everyone to focus on the overseas horses - and there are some fantastic horses amongst them, sure - but the local form in the Sprint and the Mile has been proved year after year, so the visitors have to be outstanding to beat us and I know mine are all in great form,' he said.
Fownes believes Green Birdie has flown under the radar for the Sprint, coming off two unlucky runs in Japan in September and October, and has proved himself in this race before.
'He's had three runs in it and ran seventh in 2007, when he was still on the way up; a neck second to Inspiration two years ago; and his fourth last year was outstanding, first-up after an enforced break with laminitis,' he said.
'This time he has had a much better prep and I don't think there's a lot across the field - a good ride will win it. It's a shame my other runner, Lucky Nine, drew the outside, but he's still in it. I eased off him after his first two wins this season because I was thinking about missing these races. When I changed my mind and ran him in the Jockey Club Sprint, he had a lot of improvement in him as a result and he's better now.'
Fownes also has Thumbs Up in the Mile and is hoping the lack of pace on paper won't eventuate.
'Beauty Flash is drawn in 14, there's no way he can win if he goes back from there and tries to sprint home with big finishers like Thumbs Up and Paco Boy, so I'm hoping he'll press forward and generate some speed,' Fownes said. 'My horse is going great if he gets some decent pace and we know he runs exceptional finishing fractions.'
Whyte is also aboard Derby winner Super Satin for Fownes, who is more reserved in his confidence for his Cup runner. 'Once we get to 2,000m and over, the overseas horses get tougher, but I think I can beat the local horses, including the ones that finished in front of him in the Jockey Club Cup,' he said. 'I have trained him just for this race and he wasn't fit in his first two this season. I've stripped another 20 pounds off him and he's going to peak on the day.'