Douglas Whyte continued his strong form with another winner at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, but the South African trainer will not have a presence in next month’s Longines Hong Kong International Races features after confirming Russian Emperor has been ruled out.
Set to be the leading local hope in the Group One Hong Kong Vase (2,400m), three-time Group One winner Russian Emperor will instead miss the city’s biggest race day because of a veterinary issue.
That leaves 11 runners in the HK$24 million feature and only three from Hong Kong, with Senor Toba, Five G Patch and La City Blanche left to fly the Bauhinia flag.
Whyte was still smiling after the win of Wonder Years, with the five-year-old storming home from last to take out the Class Four Stirling Castle Handicap (2,200m) at $15.7.
“The stable is in good form, and a horse like him makes a huge difference. He’s come all the way from Class Five, and he’s not the easiest horse to both train and ride,” Whyte said after Wonder Years stormed over the top of his rivals under Keagan de Melo following a brutally run race.
“He’s not very comfortable from a jockey’s perspective, but we rode him differently tonight. Instead of taking off from a long way out, we gave him a chance, and all credit to Keagan. He rode a very good race on him. We asked him to try something different tonight, and it seemed to do the trick.”
One of the most impressive performances of the evening came from four-year-old Chill Chibi, who continued his march to the Hong Kong Derby with a dismissive victory in the Class Three Dunnottar Castle Handicap (1,800m).
“He’s a nice horse, and he’s getting better day by day. Even though he carried top weight, I was still confident he could win the race,” said trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing.
“I can enter him over 2,000m at Sha Tin or run him in a 1,650m Class Two at Happy Valley. After that, we’ll give him a bit of a break and go straight to the Derby.”
Second last in transit, Chill Chibi ambled up under Jerry Chau Chun-lok turning for home before sailing past his rivals to make it four wins on the bounce.
“He’s a fantastic horse, he’s got a good heart, and every time he fights for me,” said Chau, who completed a double thanks to the electric victory of Benno Yung Tin-pang’s Son Pak Fu in the Class Two Eilean Castle Handicap (1,200m).
Yung was the only trainer to notch a brace thanks to the earlier victory of Turtle Again.
Meanwhile, with a handful of jockeys heading to Conghua for Friday morning’s turf trials, Sha Tin’s all-weather heats have been brought forward 24 hours, and there will be a couple of Group One Hong Kong Mile runners stepping out on Thursday morning.
Group Two Jockey Club Mile victor Beauty Eternal will stretch out over 1,200m under Zac Purton, while Hong Kong Derby hero Voyage Bubble – who was third behind Beauty Eternal on November 19 – will trial under his new jockey, James McDonald.
McDonald will partner Voyage Bubble for the first time under race conditions in the Hong Kong Mile on December 10, while California Spangle will also have a new rider on international day, with Tony Cruz confirming Christophe Soumillon will take the reins.
It will be the fourth jockey in as many starts for the reigning Hong Kong Mile champ, with Purton partnering the five-year-old in all of his eight runs last season before Hugh Bowman and then Matthew Chadwick jumped in the saddle for the gelding’s two races this campaign.
Maxime Guyon will team up with Cruz’s other Hong Kong Mile runner, Beauty Joy, while Alexis Badel will keep the Group One Hong Kong Sprint (1,200m) ride aboard Wellington after all.
Despite initially saying Ryan Moore would take the mount, Jamie Richards has confirmed the Frenchman will get the chance to chase his fourth elite-level victory in tandem with the speedster.