Whyte saddles first HK winner
Former champion jockey, now trainer, he is quickly off the mark at Sha Tin
As usual, they came in their thousands for the opening day of the new Hong Kong racing season.
So what if there were protests and demonstrations in the streets.
They were there at Sha Tin to indulge in the sport which unites Hong Kong.
And yesterday was going to be an opening day with a difference. Down to a man, they were there to witness one of the most anticipated debuts in Hong Kong history.
Twenty-three years after he rode his first race at that famous track, race-riding legend Douglas Whyte was going to step out as a licensed trainer and they were there to support him.
Currently, the 13-time Hong Kong champion jockey has 47 horses at his Olympic Stables base and had declared seven horses for the season opener, including California Fortune in the afternoon's feature, the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive's Cup over 1,200m and Easy Go Easy Win in the rich Class 2 sprint over the 1,400m.
While both didn't figure among the top four in both big races, the South African was quickly off the mark in the undercard.
Adonis, whom he saddled in Race 2, was a comprehensive winner, coming from a long way back to sweep to the front over the final 150m for a smashing win.
He was ridden by Regan Bayliss and, carrying the "lucky" 13 saddlecloth, he paid $33 at Kranji.
He would later sadddle Falcon Turbo to third-place in Race 4 and Bright Kid would give him a fourth-placed finish in the sixth.
Needless to say, Whyte is delighted with the support he has received so far from owners.
"I'm very happy. It has escalated quite quickly; I didn't expect it and I'm not complaining.
"It's lovely to have the support around me, I'm grateful for that, I've been here a long time so I do know a lot of people, but having said that, they still have to have the faith and trust in you to send the horses to you."
Whyte hung up his race saddle on Feb 10 with a Hong Kong record of 1,813 wins and more than HK$1.5 billion in prize money accrued, as well as numerous big-race victories to look back on. Shortly afterwards, he left on a worldwide journey to learn from some of the sport's most successful and astute trainers.
His travels took him to Dubai, Britain and Australia; to the stables of Mike de Kock, Sir Michael Stoute, William Haggas, Sir Mark Prescott, Charlie Appleby, David Hayes, Chris Waller and others.
Back to that opening day and it was business as usual for champion jockey Zac Purton.
He began proceedings in the best possible way by booting home Good Runners Way in Race 1. Trained by CS Shum, Purton's mount paid $11 at Kranji.
He followed it up with another winner in Race 3 - the showcase event on the card.
Also trained by Shum, Regency Legend was a red-hot favourite in the HKSAR Chief Executive's Cup and paid $8 for the win here at Kranji.