There is not a lot of time for sentimentality in the cutthroat world of Hong Kong racing, but for Douglas Whyte the victory of Uncle Steve certainly means more than most.
The 13-time champion jockey rode his last ever race aboard the horse in February – finishing fourth – and at Sha Tin on Sunday he delivered the South African his first Class Two win as a trainer.
There were screams from connections as Uncle Steve crossed the line in the Sheung Wan Handicap (1,400m), jockey Alberto Sanna let out a guttural roar and pumped his fist, while Whyte was full of pride when talking to reporters afterwards.
“It’s pretty sentimental – he was my last ride as a jockey and the owners have been very good friends of mine for a long time, especially their father who passed away, and the horse is named after him. So we’ve been a close unit, hence the reason it is quite an emotional success,” Whyte said. “My last ride, first Class Two winner.”
Uncle Steve has been a difficult horse to handle since arriving in Hong Kong – he can be very nervous and not easy to control – but he has always had ability, it’s just getting him to deliver on it that has been a challenge.
Whyte was full of praise for his former trainer John Moore, who looked after the gelding initially, but was delighted his hard work had paid off.
“John did a fantastic job with him – he got him at the worst stage of his career – he was a handful, he was naughty, he was uneducated as far as manners go,” Whyte said.
“Fortunately I had a lot to do with him while he was with John and since he’s come over to me I think he’s enjoyed the environment of the Olympic side, it’s a lot more laid-back there and I think he’s been able to mentally settle and he hasn’t put a foot wrong. He’s really heading in the right direction.”
Whyte’s had four winners from eight meetings with 43.3 per cent of his runners finishing in the top three – better than anyone else – which proves he is off to a flying start, but this sort of result reiterates that he is doing the right thing.
“It does. My horses are running well and I’ve gone home and I’ve been satisfied with just about everything,” Whyte said.
“A horse like him, it is very rewarding and emotional because he has been a handful. He’s indicating to me that he wants to race and he’s enjoying it and he wants to be out there and competing as opposed to being a horse that does things wrong. That result today gave me a lot of pleasure.
“You could’ve given him one more gallop or you could’ve given him a harder trial – you’re always doubting. Have I gone there too fresh? But in the end, he is a fragile horse, we all know that, his nerves work on him, so backing off and giving him less was the winning formula today.”