It wasn’t quite a fairy-tale finish, but Douglas Whyte was given a hero’s farewell after riding his last race at Happy Valley.
The 13-time champion didn’t snare a winner, but he bowed out like one, parading in front of the fans, shaking hands and throwing signed goggles into the crowd before being given a guard of honour by his fellow jockeys.
Whyte only had a book of three rides – Iron Bravo, Good Omen and California Gungho, with the middle one considered his best hope – but finishes of sixth, fourth and fifth, respectively, meant the night didn’t quite follow a Hollywood script.
But with the reception he received, the 47-year-old felt like he had ridden a winner.
“It doesn’t feel like I’m not coming back, but when I drive home it will sink in,” he said. “[The fans] were congratulating me, thanking me, it was really special to be really close and give that little bit of time back to them.
“To see all of [the jockeys] there and to give me a nice welcome off, it’s very special. I’ve been competing with a lot of them for a long time.
“They are very tough competitors, very good jockeys and I’ve been able to hold my own with them. For them to show me the respect they have tonight means a lot.”
After 22 years and 572 winners, Whyte said it was the electricity of the iconic track he will miss most, but even though he has officially signed off from there as a rider, he was quick to remind everyone he will be back, just in a different capacity, when he begins the next phase of his career as a trainer.
And with his official departure still to come at Sha Tin on February 10, he was able to approach this meeting with his usual mindset.
“Today is my last Happy Valley meeting, but I’ve still got three meetings to go, so it’s going to be more emotional on the 10th when I know I’m not going to be back on a horse on race day,” Whyte said.
“It was just a normal meeting for me, that’s why it probably hasn’t sunk in yet. I prepared the same way, I had to lose weight to ride 117 [pounds], I was focused.
“I didn’t look at each horse and think ‘enjoy this, you’re not going to be back here’, it was ‘get out there and do your job and see what happens later’.”
As Happy Valley said goodbye (in a riding sense) to a legend, it was also a night to remember for the least experienced jockey in the ranks.
Victor Wong Chun collected his first Hong Kong quartet – his previous best was a double – as The Show (Dennis Yip Chor-hong), Charity Wings (Danny Shum Chap-shing), Encouraging (John Moore) and Moment Of Power (Paul O’Sullivan) all saluted.
The 24-year-old showed his versatility, winning from in front and from behind, with his patient rails effort on Encouraging one of the rides of the night.
The haul comes at a good time for Wong given he has had just three rides combined at the past two Sha Tin meetings, but it did come at a cost, the apprentice hit with a two-meeting suspension.
Meanwhile, the production line of talented young horses from the John Size stable rolled out another likely type with Champion’s Way saluting on debut.
The son of Hinchinbrook never looked overly comfortable in the Class Four Lambeth Handicap (1,200m), but he appears to have above-average ability and that helped carry him over the line.
The trainer made it a double when Red Warrior continued his strong form by capturing the Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup (1,800m).
No joy for Douglas Whyte on Iron Bravo but Joao Moreira strikes aboard John Size's well-backed newcomer Champion's Way, who lands R4 despite showing signs of inexperience. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/MFzdorUHVe— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 30, 2019
The four-year-old now has three wins and three placings from seven starts, while he also holds an entry for the Hong Kong Derby and after this result he will have the rating required to get a start if connections choose to go that way.
The 10-time champion trainer finished with a treble when Country Star took out the Class Two event, putting him clear on top of the Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge with just one meeting remaining.