Racing

Three cheers to a racing legend

13-time HK champ Whyte gets an emotional send-off on his last day as a jockey

Outside the jockey's room at Sha Tin on Sunday, champion jockey Zac Purton went down on one knee and symbolically polished the riding boots of Douglas Whyte.

In the mounting yard where a ceremony had been arranged to honour Whyte, who was retiring after 22 years of racing in Hong Kong, his fellow jockeys laid an ambush for their longtime rival.

On cue, Vincent Ho and Silvestre de Sousa grabbed Whyte and lifted him into the air as other jockeys moved in, throwing the champ skywards and catching him three times.

"It was fitting," said jockey Umberto Rispoli. "It's something he'll remember for the rest of his life.

"I remember before I came here, everybody, whenever you talked about Hong Kong racing, the first thing that would always come up would be Douglas Whyte. He's a legend here."

After the lifting, Rispoli launched the first wave of champagne spray.

Earlier, when Whyte was behind the starting gates for his last ride, there was another surprise awaiting the much-loved hoop.

The starter Tony Speechley broke from the norm, said a few words and the other jockeys gave Whyte three rousing hip-hip hoorays.

The man they call the Durban Demon was "overwhelmed" in particular at the send-off he received from his jockey's room colleagues, for so long his unwavering rivals.

"Behind the gates (before the last race) it was quite emotional and a really nice send-off. You get a bit of a lump in your throat but I still had a race to ride," said Whyte.

The 13-time champion jockey's final ride did not produce the fairy-tale victory that he and the Sha Tin faithful desired, but the day delivered heart-warming displays of respect and appreciation for a sportsman whose achievements have lifted him into the pantheon of racing legends.

Whyte retires with a Hong Kong career total of 1,813 wins - 894 more than current champion Purton - multiple Group 1 scores and, of course, his defining 13 consecutive premierships (2001-2013).

Whyte's blank on his final day was not for want of trying but did owe something to a stroke of misfortune.

Two seconds were his closest placings - Mr Croissant in Race 2 and Seven Heavens in the eighth. But the near-miss came when he rallied the impeded Storm Signal close home in the seventh, only to take third.

"I would have won the race," he said. "That's the only bittersweet ending to the day. I'd have loved to have had a winner but I'm happy with the way every horse ran and the reception I received from the Sha Tin faithful.

"Right now, I'm happy. It's the end of one long journey. But now a new journey begins and looking forward to it."

The Hong Kong Jockey Club has granted Whyte a trainer's licence and he is expected to set up shop and start training soon. - HKJC

HORSE RACING