12/11/2002 12:00AM

Whyte wins one for the home team

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HONG KONG - A dozen of the world's best jockeys descended on picturesque Happy Valley Racecourse for Wednesday night's International Jockey Championship, but one of two representing Hong Kong, South African native Douglas Whyte, came away with the first prize by scoring points in all three races, including a victory in the final leg.

Whyte brought home favored Danehill Warrior in the last of the three races, giving him 19 points. Whyte also finished fourth in the first leg and third in the second leg in a competition that awarded points for the first five spots.

Andreas Suborics of Germany was second and Yutaka Take of Japan third. Both Suborics and Take won a race, but failed to earn enough points in the other two races to beat Whyte.

Whyte thrived on the tight-turned course, which is a mere seven furlongs in circumference. It has an uphill run to the finish and a steep, downhill slope on the backstretch.

Edgar Prado, representing the United States, finished 10th of 12. Prado's best finish was fifth in the first leg, but all of his runners were clearly outmatched, and Prado was forced to put each into a drive long before the final straight.

"It was a good experience," Prado said at evening's end. "I like being here, learning from the best. The first two I rode tonight, they were in nice spots, but they didn't finish. The last one, it was not his distance.

"I've got one more chance Sunday," said Prado, referring to his ride on Texas Glitter in Sunday's Hong Kong Sprint, one of four races that make up the Hong Kong International card at Sha Tin Racecourse.

"I don't want to go home empty-handed," Prado said.

Crowd ignores rainy weather

Wednesday's jockey competition was held on a drizzly night, but the rain did little to dampen the festive mood at breathtaking Happy Valley, which runs at night in the shadow of towering condominiums in the heart of Hong Kong island.

There was an elaborate prerace ceremony in which all 12 riders were introduced, with Whyte receiving one of the loudest ovations from the home crowd of 17,300.

Whyte became the first Hong Kong-based jockey to win the 5-year-old competition. Previous winners were Olivier Peslier, Andrasch Starke, and Frankie Dettori, who won it twice, including last year.

Whyte, 31, has ridden in Hong Kong for seven seasons, and twice has been the season's winningest rider. He earned a first prize of HK$200,000, approximately $25,700.

"This is one of the highlights of my career," said Whyte, who is best known for winning Hong Kong International Races on Indigenous in consecutive years. "It was very different from winning a seasonal championship, but it ranks right up there. This is a memorable one for me, representing Hong Kong."

Whyte returned on Wednesday night after sitting out seven cards for careless riding. Since racing is conducted in Hong Kong just twice a week, Whyte had been inactive for three weeks.

"This is very, very competitive," Whyte said. "It's great to meet all the riders from the world over, but once the gates open, it's every man for himself. It's one of the most competitive competitions I've been involved in."