Douglas Whyte’s first six rides for the season all started favourite and all met with defeat in a miserable opening meeting for the South African as he pursues his 13th successive championship and he wasn’t being fazed by yesterday’s shut out.
“That’s the racing game – I think I’ve probably had a few disappointing opening days like that but I bounce back,” Whyte said.
He did manage seconds on three of those rides, with Glory Horsie, Glory Of India and the white-hot favourite Amber Sky all going close – but no cigar.
Three-year-old Amber Sky, paying just $12 for a $10 outlay after three impressive wins last season, led as expected early but was strongly pressured for the first time in his career as Nordic One bounced the gates and set about contesting the front in the middle stages.
While Nordic One finished tailed off in the race, he did enough to take the sting out of the favourite and seven-year-old Vital Flyer (Howard Cheng Yue-tin) finished over the top of him to take his first victory for over two years.
“He does run well fresh but the key to getting him to win again was putting blinkers back on him, using a lugging bit and having a left handed whip rider,” said trainer Michael Chang Chun-wai. “Vital Flyer has become a difficult horse now he’s getting old – he lays in badly and is a difficult ride when he races around turns, so that’s why I want to try to keep him to the straight. He lays out a bit on this course but Howard is left-handed with the whip so he can handle him.”
It was Cheng’s first win since Flying Colours on May 16 – the night he rode My Name Is Bond in an earlier race and was later suspended under a running handling charge that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Whyte went closest to landing a win on the John Size-trained Glory Of India, but the seven-year-old registered his 14th minor placing from 48 starts when Good Thinker (Eddy Lai Wai-ming) just staved off his dogged finish.
For Good Thinker, it was a breakthrough victory at start 16 after Lai managed to steal a march on Whyte at the 250m.
It was an ideal opening for both Lai and Cheng as both riders this season have lost the two-pound weight allowance they have been able to use to good effect for the past seven years.