Not since before his run of 13 jockeys’ championships even began has Douglas Whyte had to wait as long as he did to break the ice for the new season.
The Dennis Yip Chor-hong-trained Super Leader provided the ammunition and Whyte took dead aim, using his inside gate to good effect as he never went around a horse and won a touch cosily by a length at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
It was his 24th ride of the term in race 53 and the last time he’d had a start to the season like that was 18 years ago, when Owners Glory gave the Durban Demon his first for the 1999-2000 season in race 29, on his 26th mount.
This season, like a number of riders, he has suffered with the small fields and struggled to get rides in numbers or with the required quality.
“Gee, it makes a difference when you have one that has something to give,” he said after the win.
“I’ve been running thirds and fourths but this one was a bit different. I just had to steer him around the rail. He’d put the writing on the wall last time and from the better gate tonight he has backed that up.”
With apprentice Dylan Mo Hin-tung getting off the mark earlier in the night, only four active jockeys remained on the duck egg – with Alex Lai Hoi-wing, Kei Chiong Ka-kei and Ben So Tik-hung sidelined through injury.
Mo’s ride on the nine-year-old Dragon Bachelor drew praise from leading trainer Me Tsui Yu-sak, who was also thrilled with Jack Wong Ho-nam’s winning effort on Curling Luxury in the following race.
“Both of the apprentices did a really good job,” he said. “For Dragon Bachelor, the difference between his run last Saturday and tonight was the draw – he was better out in barrier 11 tonight.
“The other day, he had an inside draw and horses around him and he just wasn’t fast enough to get clear of them and get near the lead so he got shuffled back in the field. Tonight, with no horse on his outside, he was able to get into his stride and into the race early.”
The trainers too have been eyeing off those first wins to get them out of the way and Tony Cruz, who is usually a quick starter, took until the last race of the night and 57-1 chance Wah May Friend (Matthew Chadwick) to get off the blocks.
That left Almond Lee and freshman Michael Freedman still to begin their season but the latter at least got a sniff of a result with his second runner of the term when Smart Union finished second.
“He ran well, Joao Moreira said the draw stopped him being a bit closer in the run which might have been the difference but anyway he’s run well and given me a bit of confidence,” Freedman said.
The Caspar Fownes-trained Speedy Wally put back-to-back wins up as the second half of Zac Purton’s double and Fownes had warned the jockey beforehand to expect it.
“I told him this isn’t the old Speedy Wally, who could be a bit hot and cold. I said to Zac this horse is flying and seems to have toughened up since last season,” Fownes said.
Sam Clipperton took no time at all to bounce back into the winner’s circle after a suspension, landing Letsgofree for Francis Lui Kin-wai in the opening race to deny Fownes’ Great Toplight.
And Joao Moreira struck out at the Valley for the second time in three midweek meetings this season and had to be content with a few seconds.