Champion jockey Douglas Whyte was back as the pinch-hitter for the Tony Cruz stable at Happy Valley last night and made the most of it with a winning double that carried him to a Jockey Challenge win as well.
In recent seasons, Whyte has frequently been Cruz's go-to rider when Matthew Chadwick is on the suspended list and with good results, and the Durban Demon obliged with two of his three rides for the yard last night on Seasons Star in the fourth race and 30 minutes later as Real Dragon landed his third win on the bounce.
"It's always a pleasure to ride for Tony - he's a true professional and presents his horses in mint condition," Whyte said. "And he does a great job with them. I mean Real Dragon is very limited and Tony has done so well to get three in a row with him. I'd be a bit surprised if he could win a fourth. The draw in gate one was everything tonight, he never left the rail and he does give you everything he has got."
But three-year-old Seasons Star was a different kettle of fish, drawing the extreme outside, but able to keep his unbeaten record intact after two starts.
"There's no doubt the leaders went too fast and that helped, but this horse is very green, very leggy and has some developing to do, but he does have an engine," Whyte said.
"He was parked wide and near the rear, but when he let down, he grabbed them and hit the front in a couple of strides."
The pair and several minor placings enabled Whyte to prevail in the Challenge over Vincent Ho Chak-yiu and Zac Purton, who both landed wins on Jumbo Gold and Mount Victory respectively.
Mount Victory's break through at start 20 in the Class Five 2,200m was the first half of a double for trainer Paul O'Sullivan, who won the following race with Victory General (Tim Clark).
"Mount Victory hasn't run too badly since he came to me but he has been plagued with wide gates - from the six draw tonight though he was able to get the right run for a change," he said.
Victory General has won two sprints at the Valley from two runs this season, but O'Sullivan doesn't see his future in those sorts of races.
"He's by the same sire as the Melbourne Cup winner, out of a Zabeel mare, so you'd have to think he'd get a mile at least," O'Sullivan said.
"That's where I see his future eventually, but there's no hurry to get him out to longer trips just yet."
Caspar Fownes-trained Jumbo Gold's win was his first since March 2011 and also back from a long winning drought was Romantic City (Ben So Tik-hung), who last won in January last year after showing real promise early.
Trainer Gary Ng Ting-keung said the difference last night was that the usually keen-going sprinter was able to relax in the lead instead of burning himself and he kept going this time.
"He's been racing upside down, going out too hard in the lead and having nothing left. Tonight he led, but when he relaxed there I knew he had to run well. He has become so well handicapped on his old form," said Ng, who sealed a double when Withinmyheart won the last event for Alex Lai Hoi-wing.
Stewards had only two customers for careless riding bans, with Richard Fourie (race two) receiving a two-day suspension and Jacky Tong Chi-kit (race four) getting three days after being guilty of breaches at two separate stages of the race.