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The highly regarded Foundation looks the one to be on in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on Saturday the last big prize of the flat season before National Hunt racing takes over through the winter months.
Brazilian-born jockey Silvestre de Sousa was crowned the Stobart Champion Flat Jockey on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot Racecourse last Saturday for the first time in his career.
He collects the winner’s prize of £25,000, the first time the Champion Jockey has been financially rewarded, and receives the Champion Jockey trophy from two legends of the weighing room, Lester Piggott, and last year’s Champion Richard Hughes at 12.15pm in the Parade Ring.
De Sousa is one of only three jockeys to have ridden in over 700 races this season – a testament to his professionalism, popularity and work-rate. This has translated into 132 winners before racing today, at an impressive strike rate of 18%.
Numerically he has ridden most of his winners at Chelmsford City (14); has had most success when partnering with trainer Mark Johnston’s horses and been most successful in contests over six furlongs.
Despite being a 100/1 shot for the title at the beginning of the Championship this year, he might even be considered a lucky charm for punters – placing £1 on each of his rides would currently have delivered almost £50 in profit.
Silvestre de Sousa said of his maiden Championship: “It’s a bit surreal really. I tried to put the idea of winning the Champion Jockey title to the back of my mind while it was still in the balance but now that I will win it, it feels great.”
“I’ve always believed I had the ability to win the Championship and, thanks to the owners and trainers who have supported me this season, I’ve proven I can.”
Former jockeys, including 11-time Champion Lester Piggott, have been quick to praise the Brazilian with the Long Fellow saying: “He’s one of the few that rides every day. He’s looking to ride all the time and he’ll ride anything, anywhere and that is a big thing.”
“So many of them are tied to certain stables or owners, but he can do what he likes. I think that has helped him, he’s got no ties. He can do a low weight and he deserves it really.”
The recently-retired previous Champion Jockey Richard Hughes, who held the title for three consecutive years, said: “At the start of the season, I thought he had a good chance and, from the moment the season began, you could see he was going for it.”
“He is the same Silvestre every day, a real Mr Reliable, and he doesn’t make many mistakes. Now I’m a trainer, I’d be pleased to have him ride for me.”
However, it is Silvestre’s wife, Victoria, and their son eight-year-old Ryan who are proudest of all about the coveted Champion Jockey trophy he receives at Ascot today.
Victoria, a former jockey herself, said of her husband: “I’m just so proud of him. I’ve always thought he could do it but I didn’t know it was going to be this year.”
“He’s just a very positive person and that’s reflected in the way he rides horses. He gives it 100 per cent absolutely every time. He will give your horse the same ride, put the same amount of homework and thought into it, whoever you are and whatever your horse is. He treats everyone the same.”
Shelley Dwyer, De Sousa’s agent for the first time this year, added: “We’d talked about teaming up for a few weeks and then one day he just came round and asked and we decided to give it a go.”
“He’s very easy to deal with, but very competitive, which is a massive plus. He likes to ride winners and when he goes five or six days without one, our phone calls can become a bit shorter. Everyone in racing has to get used to defeat – especially at a small stable like ours (her husband Chris is a trainer in Newmarket) – and Silvestre is no different. He doesn’t like being beaten, but thankfully he’s such a good jockey that he doesn’t usually have to wait too long for the next winner!”
“He gets plenty of support from a huge number of different trainers, which I know he appreciates, but part of the reason for that is as well as being incredibly talented, he’s a very nice guy.”
Having been crowned Champion Apprentice at Sao Paulo’s racecourse, Hipodromo de Cidade Jardim in 2000, De Sousa had setbacks and left Brazil for Europe in 2003 and found himself at Dermot Weld’s stable in Ireland. After a couple of years, he joined trainer David Nicholls’ North Yorkshire yard, picking up a few rides in late 2005.
His first winner outside of Brazil happened on New Year’s Day, 2006, at Southwell, UK on a horse called Sonic Anthem, who took a maiden race for apprentice riders by 16 lengths.
De Sousa made steady progress from there, with his breakthrough coming when teaming up with another North Yorkshire-based trainer, Mark Johnston, in 2009. He partnered 100 British winners in 2010 and 161 in 2011, finishing just four behind Paul Hanagan in the British jockeys’ championship. He was announced as a Godolphin retained rider on February 22, 2012.
His Godolphin stint, which lasted until mid-2014 included victories on Farhh who gained the QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot in 2013 and in in the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup in 2014 on African Story. After the partnership with Godolphin fizzled out, De Sousa responded in typical fashion, with hard work, a smile for everyone, and a bucket-load of winners, including landing one of the shocks of this season when defeating the Derby winner, Golden Horn, on 50/1 chance Arabian Queen in York’s Juddmonte International.
Yours in sport.
Back Next Thursday.
Kevan Minter – The Colonel.