Already the most decorated jockey in the history of Hong Kong racing, Douglas Whyte can add Group One-winning trainer to his resume after Stronger’s surprise victory in the Centenary Sprint Cup.
The South African, who is into his third season as a handler after swapping his stirrups for a stopwatch in 2019, enjoyed the biggest moment of his new career at Sha Tin on Sunday when his honest speedster fought off a late challenge from Sky Field in the HK$12 million feature.
Whyte won 23 Hong Kong majors as a jockey – including this race twice (Best Of The Best in 2000 and Peniaphobia in 2015) – and now he joins the legendary Tony Cruz as the only person to collect the feature both as a rider and a trainer.
The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on the 50-year-old, who admitted the stress meant the run down the home straight felt much longer than 22.92 seconds.
🗣️ "Stronger, too much stronger!"— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 23, 2022
It's a first Group 1 for @DJWhyteTrainer as @Vincenthocy drives the five-year-old to Centenary Sprint Cup glory! 💪 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/eo92W81RO5
“I tell you it was the longest 400m of my life so far,” Whyte said.
“I’ve had numerous [Group Ones] as a jockey, so to get the first one on the board [as a trainer] – I’ve been stiff a few times – is a good feeling.”
When asked the difference between riding and training Group One winners, Whyte thought the comparison was easy.
“It’s different, when you’re on them, you’re in control. When I leg these jockeys up and they leave, I’ve got no control. Once they’re on, it’s all up to them,” he said.
Douglas Whyte’s glorious ride to become the greatest jockey in Hong Kong racing history
“So when something comes together like that, all the work that goes into it back home with my staff, the owners, to eventually get that Group One, it’s a very significant, great feeling.”
The result is clearly the best of Stronger’s career – the five-year-old’s previous win came in Class Two in November 2020 – and while he does have Group Two and Group Three placings to his credit, before Sunday he’d found things a bit tough at the elite level.
It’s why he was sent out an $18 hope, the second-longest price of the field, but a solid tempo set things up for the backmarkers and Stronger took full advantage.
After snagging back from the gate, Vincent Ho Chak-yiu peeled out and asked for an effort at the top of the straight, the son of Not A Single Doubt rallying under pressure and defying the challenge of Hong Kong Sprint champion Sky Field to prevail by a head with Hot King Prawn also finishing off well for third.
“He’s been a bit unlucky, he’s been a bridesmaid a few times and he’s had a few excuses but today everything went his way. He can do something like that when he gets a run like he did today,” Whyte said.
“The winning move was putting him to sleep and coming out wide. The second horse had to come around us and pushed us along. He was vulnerable, but he dug deep and that’s all that mattered.
“Vincent gets his head in the right place in these big races. He could have been vulnerable, he could have been three-wide, but he put the horse to sleep and he came out at the right time.
“He’s riding to perfection and he should be – he’s come through the grades fantastically.”
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Ho was expected to taste Group One success at the meeting but it was somewhat of a role reversal as the winning streak of Golden Sixty was shockingly ended at 16 in the Stewards’ Cup and Stronger produced his best in the Centenary Sprint Cup.
“Stronger on his day, [the ability] is always there. The pace was on today, it just worked out beautifully for us,” Ho said.
“A big thanks to the owner Mr Cheung [Hon-kit] and to Douglas, who has always kept me on.
“He’s such a good fighter. When horses come close to him, he wants to fight more.”