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Douglas Whyte hails retired champion stayer Russian Emperor

3 minute read

Russian Emperor will forever be remembered for his courage, ability and some of the finest moments in Hong Kong racing history, namely, two unforgettable upset victories over Golden Sixty and Romantic Warrior – the city’s dominant forces of recent times.

Douglas Whyte and winning connections celebrate after RUSSIAN EMPEROR winning the HH THE AMIR TROPHY (QA Gr1) - THOROUGHBREDS (Presented by Longines)
Douglas Whyte and winning connections celebrate after RUSSIAN EMPEROR winning the HH THE AMIR TROPHY (QA Gr1) - THOROUGHBREDS (Presented by Longines) Picture: HKJC

Sired by Galileo and out of superstar mare Atlantic Jewel, the recently retired Russian Emperor began his career in Ireland before shipping to Hong Kong to join Douglas Whyte's team, where he quickly emerged as his stable star.

Lauded as a horse with a big heart, Russian Emperor  steps away as a two-time Hong Kong Champion Stayer (2021/22 & 2022/23) with earnings of HK$48.78 million from four wins. 

"He had the temperament and a whole presence in the stable, his nature, too. Those good horses, they stamp themselves and he knew when it was gallop day and race day, especially race day – he pumped himself up to get a saddle and bridle on him to take him to the track, he knew it was game on," Whyte said.

"It was lovely to work with an individual like that because you can relate to that as a human being – I was like that and I am still like that, you sort of tense up and it's an excited energy. He was like that, then after the race he was just the kindest animal to be on and be around.

"We all knew when there was a drop of rain around that he had that real fight and that will to win. He used to enjoy chasing and coming from off them, he had a good turn of foot for a big horse like him."

Raced in the silks of owner Mike Cheung, Russian Emperor's career commenced like many at Sha Tin with a Four-Year-Old Classic Series tilt in 2021. He logged a pair of agonising second placings in both the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) and BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m).

The now seven-year-old quickly reached a 100-plus rating ahead of his fifth start in Hong Kong, which came at Group 3 level. Overall, he made 31 starts for Whyte, which at times was interrupted with setbacks, but more positively a pair of Middle Eastern adventures – where he made history.

Russian Emperor remains the first and only Hong Kong-trained horse to win a race in Qatar, prevailing in their biggest contest, the 2023 H.H. The Amir Trophy (2400m) at Al Rayyan for jockey Alberto Sanna, where he outlasted the likes of Warren Point, Stone Age and Broome.

"He's been an absolute star to be around. He's taught me things so quickly and gave me an experience to travel for the first time, especially in such a short period of time being a trainer, and to be successful. It's hard enough arriving in a place healthy let alone winning a Group 1 race, so it was very special," Whyte said.

His initial Group 1 success came in the 2022 G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) on yielding ground under jockey Blake Shinn at Sha Tin, conquering rivals and chiefly Hong Kong's now all-time leading winner Golden Sixty by a wide margin in adverse conditions.

Three starts later, he collected the first of two G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) triumphs, before defending his crown in 2023 by stunning 1.2 favourite Romantic Warrior by neck – a near-favourite moment for Whyte of his stable stalwart.

"It would probably be his last Champions & Chater Cup, getting up to beat Romantic Warrior. He dug deep; Hugh Bowman gave him a 10 out of 10 ride.

"But, you know, you can't take away Qatar. Travelling for the first time and representing Hong Kong and putting on a show the way he did, those are special moments, so I probably couldn't put one ahead of the other, they're both so memorable," Whyte said.

All three of Russian Emperor's wins in Hong Kong came at Group 1 level. Whyte, Hong Kong's all-time leading rider (1,813 wins) and a renowned fierce competitor, transitioned to the training ranks in 2019/20, and has nothing but appreciation for a horse who has been like a "kid" to him. 

"He's still in the stables. He won't be going anywhere until he leaves Hong Kong, I still trot him and give him a bit of exercise. He'll be heading to Living Legends. They have accepted him and that's where we'll be going," Whyte said.

Based in Australia, Living Legends currently houses the likes of Silent Witness, Beauty Generation and Good Ba Ba. 

Looking to Happy Valley on Wednesday (5 June), Whyte is seeking consecutive wins with Ace Power in the first section of the Class 4 Mount Nicholson Handicap (1200m).

 "He's vulnerable from there (barrier 10). He's immature still, everyone could see in his last win that he only really knuckled down over the last 100 metres, so a lot is going to depend on how the track rides and where Andrea (Atzeni) can find a position," Whyte said.

Aiming to enhance his 35 wins this season, Whyte saddles the Mary Slack-owned Wings Of War in the Class 3 Violet Hill Handicap (1200m), who pairs with jockey Harry Bentley.

 "It was very nice to get that win with him. Everyone knows the history behind the Slack family and I've known them for a very long time. He's been up and going for a long time now, this rain around is going to enhance his chances and thankfully he has an inside gate. I wouldn't say he's improved but he's held his form," Whyte said.

Wednesday's (5 June) nine-race fixture at Happy Valley commences at 6.40pm with the Class 5 Stanley Gap Handicap (1000m).


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