The smaller the field, the bigger the upset. That is the motto legendary jockey Douglas Whyte will carry into Sunday’s Group Three Bauhinia Sprint Trophy (1,000m) when he rides promising three-year-old Styling City.
Just six horses will contest the feature event of the day, in what is the equal-lowest number in the race this decade after the same amount lined up in 2016.
The race has had traditionally poor numbers, however, with it attracting a full field just once since 2010.
Because of the lack of depth, the top-rated Ivictory will be forced to carry the maximum 133 pounds while the next highest-rated runner, Wishful Thinker, will carry the minimum 113 pounds along with four other horses.
One of those four will be Whyte’s Styling City, who has quickly formed a reputation as a straight-track specialist, winning five from his six starts over the 1,000m trip at Sha Tin.
It will be a large jump for the three-year-old, who has had just one start in Class Two company, but Whyte is confident he is capable of stepping up.
“I think he is ready for it, fortunately it is a small field, he’s got a nice light weight and he’s a course specialist so he’s got a few things in his favour, however he does step up to Group level now so he’s got to improve and lift his game,” he said.
“Ivictory is a proven galloper, so we are stepping up and we have to improve to be competitive, the fortunate thing is he has a big weight allowance.”
Because of the small field, tactics are set to play a major role in the race and Whyte expects some horses to be “ridden upside down” as a result.
“One of the best sayings is the smaller the field, the bigger the upset,” he said. “It’s just the pace could be different, a lot of horses I think are going to try and make Ivictory carry his weight so you could get a few horses ridden upside down.
“As far as my horse goes, I think we all saw he’s pretty flexible. Where ever he is comfortable, that’s where I will be riding him.
“He’s got a lovely turn of foot which he showed us last time so I am not going to mess that around.”
The John Moore-trainer galloper produced a stunning victory last start when Whyte was able to weave through a crowded field to win in the final stride.
“Not many horses can get off the canvas the way he did, especially with the weight but that’s what good horses can do, he produced a fantastic turn of foot,” he said.
Whyte faces a gruelling slog to shed seven pounds by Sunday in order to ride the horse at 115 pounds – he will ride at two pounds over – and he has an incredible record at the weight.
Since 2004, Whyte has ridden just 40 times at or below 115 pounds for 12 wins at a strike rate of 30 per cent.
Ironically, Styling City has an uncanny similarity to the last horse Whyte won the race with, Divine Ten in 2014.
The Me Tsui Yu-sak-trained gelding was able to win the race while jumping up from Class Two in his sixth start with a rating of 98.
What a win for Styling City! @DJWhyteJockey finds his run blocked several times but the three-year-old produces a tremendous finish to thwart stablemate Storm Signal right on the line. The winner, completing a double for John Moore, has now won five from seven. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/l7bHm0JglY— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 23, 2018
Styling City will enter the race with a rating of 94 after seven starts, including one in Class Two.
Five of the last nine winners have jumped out of Class Two grade to claim their first Group level victory.
Of the other contenders Styling City will come up against, it is only Wishful Thinker who comes off a last-start victory over the 1,000m trip.
The Richard Gibson-trained five-year-old proved his versatility in November when he dropped from 1,200m to 1,000m to win in Class Two grade.
After running over as far as 1,400m this season, many were surprised by his speed, however jockey Alexis Badel said it was a pair of blinkers that proved the difference for Wishful Thinker.
“He had the blinkers, he showed very, very good speed with them so I wasn’t surprised, he is a talented horse so I hope he can repeat that good run,” Badel said.