Whyte hails his retired champ Russian Emperor, Latest Racing News - The New Paper

Whyte hails his retired champ Russian Emperor

Big-hearted stayer made history for being first and only HK horse to win race in Qatar

HONG KONG - 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.

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 (S$8.4 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 (1,800m) and BMW Hong Kong Derby (2,000m).

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 its biggest contest, the 2023 H.H. The Amir Trophy (2,400m) 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,” said the 52-year-old Whyte.

“It’s hard enough arriving in a place healthy, let alone winning a Group 1 race, so it was very special.”

His initial Group 1 success came in the 2022 Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m) on yielding ground under jockey Blake Shinn at Sha Tin, conquering rivals and chiefly Hong Kong’s now all-time leading winner Golden Sixty – an eight-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro who has amassed HK$167 million in earnings and winner of 26 of his 31 starts – by a wide margin in adverse conditions.

Three starts later, he collected the first of two Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m) triumphs, before retaining his crown in 2023 by stunning raging favourite Romantic Warrior by a neck.

“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,” said Whyte.

“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.”

Incidentally, Romantic Warrior had just captured the Group 1 Yasuda Kinen (1,600m) at Tokyo racecourse on June 2. In bagging his 15th win from 20 outings, the six-year-old by Acclamation took his earnings to HK$151 million.

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 the South African handler.

“He’s still in the stables. He won’t be going anywhere until he leaves Hong Kong,” said Whyte. “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.”

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