Uncle Steve was the last horse Douglas Whyte ever rode in a race and the first-season trainer says he has enjoyed watching the four-year-old gelding grow since he joined his stable in the off-season.
Then trained by John Moore, Uncle Steve couldn’t quite give Whyte the perfect send-off but rattled home for an eye-catching fourth at his Hong Kong debut as the 13-time champion signed off from life in the saddle.
After a further six runs for Moore, including one win, Uncle Steve steps out for Whyte for the first time in Sunday’s Class Two Sheung Wan Handicap (1,400m).
“He’s certainly sentimental to me and it’s good to be on him from a different point of view,” Whyte said.
“I’ve been on him most mornings and seen his progression and been able to get back to the yard and be part of his whole new venture.
“I knew him obviously very well from a jockey’s perspective but it’s been interesting watching, learning and seeing him develop under my care.”
Such is his opinion of Uncle Steve, Whyte has opted to run the horse in Class Two despite having the choice of entering him in Class Three thanks to his 80 rating.
“He’s on a rating which gave me the option,” Whyte said. “He’s a lovely individual, he’s a thinker and he’s got his issues but I just thought starting off with a lighter weight over the 1,400m would give him his chance instead of lumping 133 pounds around at only his first start of the season.
“I haven’t really got hold of him yet, it will probably be a good indicator of where he is and it’ll give me a good indication of where he is going to get to going forward.”
Uncle Steve meets the likes of David Hall’s in-form six-year-old Fast Most Furious and Richard Gibson’s last-start winner Gold Chest in what looks an even race, with Alberto Sanna to ride from barrier seven.
It is the first time Sanna will ride Uncle Steve in a race but he was aboard for his two recent trials.
“I think if Alberto can get a decent enough run he’ll certainly let down the last 400m,” Whyte said.
“He’s an individual that doesn’t like to be bullied and he’s certainly a thinker. He doesn’t like to be rushed early, he likes to find his rhythm and come into the race.”
Whyte has four other runners on Sunday, with Sanna also partnering Chater Thunder, Winning Endeavour and Private Rocket for the South African, while Regan Bayliss teams up with Iron Boy.
After exploding out of the blocks in his training career with winners at the first three meetings of the season, Whyte has experienced a few dry weeks but is content with how he has settled into his new life.
“It’s always nice to get the winners under the belt early, that’s the nature of Hong Kong,” he said.
“But I think now I’ve found a beautiful rhythm and routine for the horses and they seem to be looking well and they seem to be accepting what I’m asking of them and improving.”