TRAINER Mike Azzie has confirmed that he has booked former Hong Kong Champion Jockey Douglas Whyte for 2016 Triple Crown winner Abashiri in the Gr1 Vodacom Durban (R4,25-million) over 2200m on Saturday, 2 July.
In what has been a hard and controversial decision for Azzie and owners Adriaan and Rika van Vuuren, Whyte will replace jockey Karl Zechner, who is unbeaten in five successive starts on the star gelding.
Azzie said on Sunday: “A lot was said after Abashiri won the SA Derby and we’ve put that behind us. Karl is unbeaten on the horse, but Doug was available to take the ride. He is an internationally renowned big-race rider, champion of Hong Kong 13 times and in fact a good friend of my family.
“Many years ago Doug’s father John, my father Herbie and Mike Keyrouz were inseparable friends, so close that my brother John was named after Doug’s father and I was named after Mike Keyrouz. We go back a long way. I wanted Doug to be my apprentice way back when in the late 1980s, but he was assigned to Gary Alexander and they sent me Weichong Marwing.
“Doug still rode a number of winners for me before he left for Hong Kong. A few years ago I asked Doug to ride one on July day for me, he couldn’t make it but he said, ‘One day I will, I promise,’ and I replied, ‘I hope I have one good enough for you to ride!’. Now we have Abashiri and Doug will be flying out to ride him!”
Azzie said that he had discussed the issue with Zechner. “Karl is upset, but this is racing. Apart from having one of the world’s best riders available, I didn’t want to put more pressure on Karl for the July. We weren’t happy with his ride in the Derby, that’s a known fact, and that alone would have elevated the pressure on him before the July. I promised and gave him his first Grade 1 winner, he remains my stable jockey and will get plenty of my rides going forward.”
Azzie said about Abashiri: “We gave him a good rest after the Derby, but his July preparation is going very well. He is coming to hand steadily and we will go straight into the July without an official prep run. I’m hoping Rabada will take his place as well. He has blossomed, he will come into the July with a low weight and being a better horse now he will be a serious runner if he is accepted. That depends on a decision to be taken by Markus Jooste and Derek Brugman.”
Azzie and Adriaan van Vuuren have just returned from Australia, where they attended the June Magic Millions Sale and Azzie told: “We enjoyed a great sale, we bought 11 beautifully bred horses by stallions like Redoute’s Choice, Pluck and Choisir, and a relation to the great sprinter Silent Witness. We are most excited about them!”
Read Also: Whyte Off Abashiri