By Hans Ebert

Someone was mentioning how and what made the dragon wake up. It wasn’t a dragon so much as the Durban Demon- South African Douglas Whyte, the champion Hong Kong jockey for a record breaking thirteen consecutive seasons.

This reign, made even more remarkable as the Aussie’s support system included mainly rides from two stables, that of Dennis Yip, who somewhat surprisingly won the trainer’s championship that season, and Caspar Fownes, ended during the 2013/14 racing season when after five years of absorbing it all and fighting all the time for everything that’s not come easily since arriving in Hong Kong in 2007, Zac Purton decided that enough is enough and brought the curtain down on this phenomenal winning run.

It was the first sign of what was to become the lethal Zac Attack and the rider fine-tuning his brand and marketing himself. The rough edges had to go. Family life, which comes with it new priorities, has changed him, he’s a great ambassador for Hong Kong racing and knows how to play politics with chutzpah and smart communications skills. Watch the new, improved Zac in the new Happy Wednesday video.

As for winning that first Hong Kong Jockey Premiership, before Zac Purton could get comfortable in his role as Hong Kong’s champion jockey, a relative unknown originally from São Paulo who had been making headlines in Singapore by breaking records like riding the winners of an entire card at one meeting in 2013, arrived in Hong Kong in 2014 and had the red carpet rolled out for him.

For Joao Moreira, there was no need to put in the hard work and find support from the leading trainers. John Size, who, for reasons still not really understood, dissolved his successful and longtime partnership with Whyte, and never used Purton, threw his considerable support behind the Brazilian magic man. It was a move that worked immediately for trainer, jockey and the owners.

From here began a remarkable and record breaking thirteen year domination of Hong Kong racing by the most charismatic and marketable jockey in the world.

When “Cups King” John Moore also turned to Moreira for some magic by offering him the best horses in his stable including Able Friend and later Rapper Dragon, the Cult of Moreira reached new heights. Soon, the racing world couldn’t get enough of the magic man.

As for Hong Kong racing fans, they had never ever seen such derring do and extraordinary displays of horsemanship in the saddle- not even during those extraordinary Whyte Years when the South African did the impossible, especially at the idiosyncratic Happy Valley racecourse and riding against some of the best riders around at that time- the best from Australia, but especially from South Africa.

Suddenly, Douglas Whyte wasn’t just playing second fiddle to Joao Moreira- that role went to Purton for three long years- the South African struggled to get rides and the one-time expected support of the big stables. These went poof. Being able to pick and choose the best rides were part of a distant past.

There were then apparently rumours in some circles that he was about to retire as he had nothing left to prove and how that thing called age had dulled his ability to win. Well, that was the story spun. Did we believe any of this?

Last season, however – the season of change- with the loudest secret finally announced- the decision of Moreira to follow his longtime dream to succeed in Japan where he had already built up a strong following along with a powerful support system- and Purton’s patience paying off with the Australian receiving support from all the big stables- Cruz, Moore and finally, John Size- Douglas Whyte came in from the cold. Slowly but surely. He didn’t crave the limelight. He knew how it worked. It was all about timing and seizing the right opportunities. He doesn’t need pointless social media cheer squads. Let’s not forget that we’re in Hong Kong.

After flashes of that old Whyte magic, he seemed to purposely fly under the radar by riding a few winners for John Moore while also building a still-to-be-understood relationship with the veteran trainer. It was something like a marriage of convenience.

At the last race meeting of the season, after beating Zac Purton earlier in the day, Douglas Whyte waited until the very last race of the season to signal his comeback.

That last race of the 2017-2018 season, which saw a brilliant three way finish featuring Zac Purton, Joao Moreira and Douglas Whyte had it all. It was the stuff dreamed up by Hollywood screenwriters and the denouement needed in any successful Sergio Leone movie.

With Purton coming a close third, what spoiled the fairytale ending of Joao Moreira leaving Hong Kong on a winning note was the duel to the the wire between him and Whyte with the latter taking one of his legendary and trademark inside runs and just getting his horse’s nose down where and when it mattered.

Initially, it wasn’t a popular result. Hong Kong racing fans dearly wanted to see their favourite rider end his career here on a winning note. But after that initial disappointment, came the realisation of the huge respect that had always existed between Moreira and Whyte.

Whereas the on course rivalry between Whyte and Purton wasn’t exclusive to the races, the mutual admiration society between the Magic Man and the Durban Demon was revealed to everyone after that last race and during the presentation ceremony for the season. Joao Moreira received the most cheers. Douglas Whyte was a close second.

There’s also the story that Moreira watched that last race before heading out for this presentation ceremony, smiled and had one word to sum it all up: Perfect.

Time will tell what exactly this race might lead to, but for right now, it’s as perfect a race as there could have been- three different nationalities, three very different individuals and one brilliant ending to a racing season where the best was saved- and served for last.

What’s also the bet that this race will be watched many times over when it comes to the past, present and future of Hong Kong, China racing? And the impact it will have on its future and the players involved.

#HKracing #HKJC #ZacPurton #DouglasWhyte #JoaoMoreira #horseracing #Conghua