by David Morgan, Hong Kong Jockey Club
Douglas Whyte is fast developing a reputation as a trainer well capable of readying young prospects for early success.
The South African has 56 horses in his stable, 27 of which were unraced in Hong Kong prior to today’s (21 December) pre-Christmas Sha Tin meeting, and, following on the heels of Will Power’s first-up win seven days ago, the rookie handler delivered Inner Flame and Xponential for step-out victories.
“It’s ticking over nicely,” Whyte said. “I’ve indicated for a while now that it was going to be exciting when my new ones step out and they’re all running races that I would have expected them to have. If a couple of them hadn’t run like they have I’d be disappointed because they are showing me pretty good work in the mornings.”
Inner Flame, race favourite at odds of 2.2, set the ball rolling in section two of the Class 4 Ho Sheung Heung Handicap (1200m).
“It gives you a good feeling when they win like that, the work that you put in it pays off,” Whyte said after the four-year-old’s two-length score.
Whyte, a legend of the Hong Kong jockeys’ room with 13 championships to his name, was not surprised to see the Zoustar chestnut land the spoils under Alexis Badel.
“He’s shown me at home that he’s got the ability to produce an effort like he did today. He’s had some really good educational trials and the writing was on the wall for everybody to see,” Whyte said.
Inner Flame tracked outside the leader until that rival began to fade, and, with nothing else in a position to tow him any further, kicked on resolutely down the home straight.
“It’s a handy effort from a new horse, hitting the front a long way out. I only know from experience, when I used to ride them, if you hit the front at the top of the straight you are vulnerable and he did a good job to keep going,” Whyte observed.
“I think I can press on with him. I’ve given him a good foundation and he’s had a solid build-up into this so I’d be surprised if he wasn’t improving from this race.”
Three races later, Xponential (127lb) repeated his stablemate’s first-up feat with a late-lunging win in section one of the Class 4 Ho Sheung Heung Handicap (1200m). Chad Schofield’s mount pipped top-weight Fantasy (133lb) by a head to prevail at odds of 47/1.
“We didn’t expect him to finish the way he did but he’s done everything right in the mornings and he’s certainly improved the most of my young ones. He had to dig deep today, come through a tight gap and show a bit of tenacity to put his head in front,” Whyte said of the Equiano four-year-old.
“I’m probably inclined to step him up to seven furlongs now. They went hard, which allowed him to finish the race off and I think he’s going to improve immensely out of that, he’ll come out with a bit of confidence as well. I think I’d be silly to go six (furlongs) again.”
Badel, meanwhile, left the track with a brace in the bag thanks to Glorious Dragon’s (114lb) late drive to victory in the Class 2 Beas River Handicap (2000m).
The Tony Millard-trained four-year-old rifled past his former stablemate, the now John Moore-trained Chefano (115lb), who was consigned to second place for the fourth time from five runs this term.