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Douglas Whyte

Torrential rain can’t stop Happy Valley, or Douglas Whyte

A black storm just hours before the first race would see most meetings around the world called off, but the city track is something special

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 12:08am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 12:08am

At a race meeting that few thought would even take place, there were the usual numbers of winners, losers and fortune of all shades and colours, but it was Happy Valley itself which emerged as the hero on Wednesday night.

The crowd was down and betting was down but more than a billion dollars of turnover was saved by being able to hold the meeting at all.

The facts of the rainfall were relatively simple, if impressive, with 159mm on the track up to 9am Wednesday but another 173.3mm then fell on Happy Valley before the first race, some 125mm of that hitting the course between 3pm and 5.30pm.

Yet the track was immediately upgraded from Soft to Yielding after race one and a further upgrade to Good To Yielding followed race three and by race seven, track Good was posted as the condition of the surface for a meeting which was almost in doubt just after 4.30pm.

At that stage, the track was already very much rain affected but raceable, however the terminal blow seemed to be the black storm signal that went up around then.

When chief steward Kim Kelly and the club’s racing operations executive John Ridley initially walked the course just after 4.30pm, there was surface water but it cleared in 10 minutes, before the track walk had finished, and the likelihood of a couple of hours of recovery time once the worst of the weather was over encouraged the club to press ahead with the meeting.

“Tonight this track even surpassed my expectations, and my expectations, after working with these tracks for many years, are very high,” said Ridley. “This track can drain at a rate of about 100mm per hour, although surface tensions can slow that a little. But I kept thinking how can this track cope as the rain just kept coming? I think we have the best tracks team in the world and what happened tonight backs that up.

“To think we went all the way to good before the night was over is just remarkable.”

The problems didn’t end with the state of the track though as the black storm signal meant the jockeys, trainers and stable staff were unable to travel from Sha Tin to Happy Valley.

“We had buses all ready to go as soon as the black storm was downgraded to a red storm at 5.20pm to get everyone here to the course,” executive director of racing business and operations Tony Kelly said.

“I think the last jockey walked in at 7pm. Had the black storm gone much longer, we would have been in more trouble.”

But the first race was pushed back to 7.30pm, run and won by St Yazin and Douglas Whyte, 13-times champion jockey and a rider in Hong Kong for the best part of 20 years, was quick with his assessment after landing the first half of a winning double on the eight-year-old.

“I came in after the first and they asked me ‘how’s the track’ and I said straight away it was good to yielding,” said Whyte. “The tracks here are fantastic but that tonight was phenomenal – I’ve never seen a track take seven inches of rain and still only be good to yielding.”

Whyte completed his double on the Tony Cruz-trained Wah May Baby in the featured Fakei Cup, 1,650m, the five-year-old stretching out impressively to win his first race beyond a sprint trip, and the double pushed Whyte to joint second on the table.

“Wah May Baby has lost that speed he had and he really appreciated the mile tonight – once he had Mr Potential to give him a lead, he relished it and gave me a really strong kick,” Whyte said.