Watching the Sorcerer and the Apprentice horse opera unfolding in Hong Kong between Douglas Whyte and Jerry Chau Chun-lok, one can’t stop but wonder if we’re somehow being given a glimpse into a not-so-distant future. But first, we must go back to the future, Marty, and when a then unknown Douglas Whyte arrived in Hong Kong…

The “Durban Demon” has always been driven by determination, focus and an almost religious zeal to succeed- not succeed through blind ambition and ruthlessness, though there’s nothing wrong with the latter depending on who’s being used. It’s almost a 12 Step method in career goals though perhaps not needing twelve steps to reach where he wants to go.

Douglas Whyte went from being an understudy to then champion Hong Kong Jockey in another South African named Basil Marcus while also forming partnerships with Tony Cruz, David Hayes, David Oughton, Ivan Allen and, of course, John Size.

Riding for them, and they were the best in the city, he learned much. Much about being a great horseman, yes, and also about the ratings game, the business aspects of horse racing which is so dependent on keeping all sides happy- the owners who pay the bills, racing executives, knowing the ways of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, how to play the game plus the importance of working with the right team.

There are a few key things I learned from being around Douglas- seize every opportunity, absorb everything going around you and never settle for being second best.

What was very telling, other than explaining why he was never a “whip jockey”, was him mentioning how he handled being called in by the Stewards for what he knew to have been a mistake: “Before they could say anything, I would raise my hands and say, ‘Guilty’. More often than not, instead of getting a four day suspension, I received two”. Brilliant strategy. He was always a strategist.

Riding regularly against Basil Marcus, the enigmatic and brilliant Eric Saint Martin, his great friend in the masterful Felix Coetzee, RS Dye, Christophe Soumillon, Gerald Mosse and, more recently, Zac Purton and Joao Moreira plus competing against visiting riders like Gary Stevens, Hugh Bowman, Ryan Moore, William Buick and Frankie Dettori, sharpened his riding tools.

He also learned from the best to be one of the best and understand their career plans and how he might wish to do things differently.

Two or three years before being licensed as a Hong Kong’s latest trainer, Douglas Whyte had already done most of his groundwork.

He formed a working partnership with John Moore knowing that Moore’s days as a trainer in Hong Kong were coming to an end. In a way, this made Tommy Berry’s role as Moore’s stable jockey unworkable. Douglas Whyte was getting his rides and gaining John Moore’s owners on side- the right owners.

When announced that he had been licensed as a Trainer- the loudest secret in town- he added more credibility to his new role by going on a “world tour “ and visiting and seeing how someone like Chris Waller manages his business. It was good public relations. It was smart brand building with the future in mind.

Last season was almost a trial run for the rookie trainer. He used less in-demand jockeys like Alberto Sanna, Regan Bayliss and Lyle Hewitson and provided each with much needed winners.

He used Joao Moreira and Zac Purton sparingly and the success rate with Hong Kong’s leading riders was average.

It was as if to say that his runners didn’t need the best riders for them to win. It was about getting into their heads, no doubt something learned from the time spent with his friend and guru the Horse Whisperer- Monty Roberts.

With him doing all the track work on his horses, he got into the heads of each and intuitively knew which of his runners were ready and who would suit them best in a race.

When apprentice Jerry Chau was indentured to his stable and quickly made his debut in Hong Kong following the sacking of apprentice Gary Lo, one doubts Douglas Whyte knew who or what he had inherited.

Though Chau introduced himself to Hong Kong racing with a double on his debut, he was still far from the finished article.

Some who had seen him ride in places like Morphetville gave him little chance of succeeding riding against the Zac Attack, the Magic Man, the Mauritian Magician and homegrown talent like Vincent He and Derek Leung.

Douglas Whyte must have relished the challenge. Plus, the pressure was off: Jerry Chau didn’t have the reputation of Matthew Chadwick who returned to Hong Kong as a boom ten pound claiming apprentice and was immediately indentured to the Tony Cruz stable. Expectations weren’t high. It’s sure to have also taken the pressure off the young apprentice.

This, plus playing the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Hong Kong’s Champion Jockey for thirteen consecutive years must have had a rub-off effect. It’s like that old Vidal Sassoon television commercial where the hairdresser says, “If you don’t look good, I don’t look good”.

This season, the 21 year old Jerry Chau has ridden 42 winners, of course not all for Douglas, but what’s important is their ongoing partnership.

When both combined at Shatin on Wednesday to win on the exciting sprinter Carroll Street with Chau giving a positive fist pump after the winning post, it said that he’s arrived in style and that he couldn’t have done it without the mentoring of Douglas Whyte.

As the trainer was quoted as saying, Jerry Chau is his main go-to jockey. This is a team that’s going places.

Could they be the champion Hong Kong Trainer and Jockey combination in 2-3 years time? Why not?

Douglas Whyte seizes every opportunity- the right ones. He’s constantly hungry. And in the changing arena of horse racing, a world of opportunities lie ahead for him.

He knows it. I know it.

#DouglasWhyte #JerryChau #HKracing #sorcererandapprentice #MontyRoberts
#MatthewChadwick #horsetrainer