As Dougie Whyte approaches his milestone ‘fabulous 50’ mark on 15 November, the ‘Durban Demon’ can reflect back on nearly a quarter century in Hong Kong as their most successful jockey ever – and now building on his second phase profession as a trainer.
The turning point for Dougie was London News, the South African-bred galloper, who delivered him his first Gr1 in Hong Kong, winning the QE II Cup for the late Laurie and Jean Jaffee in 1997.
What a moment that was for the Joburg-raised son of a champion jockey.
His Dad passed away when Dougie was 9, and the horse-crazy youngster started show-jumping.
“Thanks to Mom she invested in a pony for me and I used to travel to the Rand Show, Welkom, SA Junior Champs, etc. But at the age of 13 I had to make a decision – sell the ponies and become a jockey or stay home and carry on.”
He joined the SA Jockey Academy when he was 14 and did his 5 year apprenticeship.
“I spent the first 3 years in Durban, but I only had 7 winners. I moved to Joburg and finished my last two years as champion apprentice. I rode 272 winners in my apprentice career. Then I moved back to Durban to be stable jockey for David Payne. I rode for him for 4 years and we had tremendous success.”
Time flies. It’s been over two years since the now nearing 50 Dougie commenced his training career at Sha Tin’s Olympic Stables on 15 July 2019.
He is only the second rider given the opportunity to go straight from the saddle to training, following in the footsteps of another Hong Kong hero, Tony Cruz.
In his third season already, Dougie is contemplating a training career-high of 50 winners for this term after opening the 2021/22 term with winners at each of the first two meetings.
Following the victories of First Responder and Turin Redstar at Sha Tin and Happy Valley, respectively, in the opening week of the season, Dougie missed the board at Sha Tin on Sunday but he will be back amongst the winners soon.
Seventh in last season’s title race, he is quickly bearing down on the 100-win mark as a trainer after hauls of 44 and 41 in his first two terms.
“To be totally frank, I haven’t set a goal this season, but I would like to hit around the 50-winner mark,” he said.
“I’ve learnt a lot over the last two years. I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I think the consistency is starting to show. The horses are running well. I’m getting them into a good frame of mind and when they do get their chance at the races, they seem to be very competitive.
“I’m comfortable with the way things are happening at the moment.”
Dougie saddled his first stakes winner in January this year when the Belgian ace – and his one time arch rival – Christophe Soumillon, won on Savvy Nine at Happy Valley.
“It was a special moment, Christophe was one of my biggest competitors,” Whyte said. “We had a pretty tough run-in and we didn’t speak for a long time due to incidents which happened, but we overcame our differences,” he added.
He felt the stakes win had been ‘a long time coming’ even though it was only his seventh runner in a Group race.
“It was frustrating but I’ve been in the game long enough to know I just needed some patience – it was always going to happen,” says Dougie.
Renowned for attention to detail and unstinting professionalism as the most successful jockey in Hong Kong history with a phenomenal 1813 wins and 13 consecutive riding championships, Dougie rode his 1800th winner – the aptly named Good Omen – as a 46-year-old in 2018 before retiring in February 2019.
He retired from the saddle with all-time high prize money of more than HK$1.5 billion.
A South African Jockey Academy graduate, in 1996 he rode weekends in Singapore and undertook a short contract in Hong Kong at the start of the 1996/97 season.
He returned for the 1997/98 season and made Hong Kong his home.
He was the first jockey to reach 1000 wins in Hong Kong, and his tally of 114 wins in 2005/06 stood as a record until Joao Moreira surpassed it in 2014/15.
His major Gr1 wins in the saddle include the Hong Kong Cup (2013 Akeed Mofeed), Hong Kong Mile (2013 Glorious Days), Hong Kong Vase (1998 Indigenous), QEII Cup (1997 London News, 1998 Oriental Express, 2011 Ambitious Dragon) and Hong Kong Derby (2010 Super Satin, 2012 Fay Fay, 2013 Akeed Mofeed).
On Sunday at Sha Tin, Zac Purton rode King’s Capital to victory to join Doug Whyte as only the second rider in Hong Kong racing history to post 1300 winners.
Ironically, it was Purton who ended Whyte’s 13-season reign with the first of his four titles in 2013/14, adding three more successive crowns in 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20.
“It had always been a goal of mine to train in Hong Kong and I was hopeful I would be afforded the opportunity but I didn’t think it would happen as quickly as it did,” says Dougie.
- Don’t miss Hong Kong racing this week – at Happy Valley on Wednesday and on Sunday at Sha Tin