Hong Kong’s best jockey
With 1,385 wins under his saddle, Douglas Whyte is easily the best jockey in Hong Kong – no one else in our city has ever possessed four-digit victories. He’s also the only rider who’s been champion jockey in Hong Kong for the past 11 seasons. By October 2011, Whyte had passed the mark of HK$1 billion prize money. In other words, he really is the greatest.
“I hate being second best,” says the 40-year-old South African. “I enjoy competitions and challenges, and I will do anything to get over obstacles. If I get beat, I must win back, by any means.”
This coming Sunday (March 18) sees the annual Hong Kong Derby, one of the city’s most prestigious horse races. Winner of the 2010 Derby, Whyte is hopeful, and apparently confident, to claim a second winning. “I’ll probably ride Fay Fay this year,” he tells Time Out. “It’ll not be easy. He [Fay Fay] was a bit of a disappointment last time, but I hope he will improve this time. Well, he has to anyway. He’s the one to win the Derby!”
According to Whyte, the secret to getting the best out of horses is to not force them to do anything: “Horses are like children. Each has his own personality. If you know their character, you can extend them to run as fast as they can in the last 400 metres.” He also finds in most horses his own personality traits. “If you force me to do something, I’ll resent it and do the opposite. But if you ask me to do something politely, I’ll do it with greatest pleasure. A lot of horses are like this too.”
Whyte has never felt nervous around horses, not even when he was first put on to a horse at the age of three by his father. He’s confident about his abilities to form good partnerships with his equine companions. “I can know a lot about a horse and what I can get it to do – from the moment I sit on it to the time I get to the gate on the racecourse, which is around five to 10 minutes. It’s something that I’m good at and accustomed to.”
For Whyte, the past 11 years have been the pinnacle of his career, but his favourite moment was at the end of 2009/2010 season, when he beat Brett Prebble, another famous jockey and Derby winner, narrowly by just one race, retaining the champion jockey title and becoming the first jockey in Hong Kong to keep the title for an entire decade. “At that time he [Prebble] was 10 races in front of me with only six meetings to go, and everybody just wrote me off. But I came back and beat him in the last moment. Honestly, I still don’t know where I got the mental strength to pull it through. A lot of people would have given up. That year was not my best, but it was a great fighting comeback year. I should have got beat, but eventually I proved everybody wrong.”
Perhaps Whyte’s greatest challenge is not on the racecourse, but outside the track. “I think trying to please horse owners and the public is the most difficult part of my job,” he admits. “There are always demands, expectations and pressure for you to deliver the results. Horse racing here is very money-oriented. Many people spend their salaries betting on the races. When you win, you are like a hero to them; when you lose, suddenly they are all against you. They think you can win on every horse, but that’s not the case. They don’t realise the results also depend on the horses.”
The enormous pressure, however, is also what drives Whyte to keep winning, and what singles him out from the pack on the racecourse. “If you only see me on the racecourse, you’ll probably think I’m rude and arrogant,” says Whyte honestly. “But when you get to know me, you’ll really know I’m just trying to be alone and as focused as I can, mainly because there are too many expectations on me. That’s why in the mornings of big racing days, my wife always goes out.”
Besides horse racing, Whyte reveals another great passion – wine. He has his own vineyard in Italy, where he makes his produce. Typically, his wine even won an award in South Africa in 1998. “I still keep some [award-winning wine] at home,” he smiles. For Whyte, wine is not only what he enjoys, it’s also the ideal topic for social occasions. “You just can’t stop talking about wines,” he enthuses.
So, has he ever thought of retirement? “Not for a long time,” he says. “My body and mind will tell me when that day comes.” Still, after he retires, Whyte admits to Time Out that he will start his own wine label in Hong Kong. “I’m always a part of Hong Kong,” he says, “whether I’m a jockey or not.” Interview: Shirley Zhao
Douglas Whyte won the 2012 HKG1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby on March 18.