Champion Jockey Silvestre De Sousa chasing Hong Kong riches and Classic success
JUNE 1 could be a real D-Day for Silvestre De Sousa.
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That’s the day by which he should be able to tell you whether he is gunning for a fourth jockeys’ title.
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Or perhaps Derby day could provide the brilliant Brazilian with the first Classic win he craves. There is no doubt which he wants more.
De Sousa, 37, enjoying a money-spinning busman’s holiday in Hong Kong, said: “I’ll have a good go at the title till halfway through the season.
“I’ll know by the Derby meeting – that’s when I’ll know where I am.
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“But I would love to be associated with a team that can take me to the top level, to the better races, rather than going up and down the country.”
De Sousa’s relentless quest for winners has meant travelling around 75,000 miles in a season – he has already had one driver quit as he was spending too much time away from his own family.
It is understandable soon to be father-of-three De Sousa would want to spend a little less time away from his Newmarket home and a little more time enjoying some less frequent but higher-profile winners.
His wife Victoria, mother of their children Ryan, 11, Max, 1, and expecting another son in March says her husband is “very hands-on”, adding “he is really good with them at night, he loves babies.”
De Sousa said: “It is very hard. When the season starts it is just the early mornings and getting home late at night.”
Hos prowess in the saddle is reaching a global audience thanks to a successful winter stint in Hong Kong, which culminates in Sunday’s Longines International Races at Sha Tin.
But even in Hong Kong, where he has ridden 41 winners over the last few years, earning more than £5 million prize-money and landing the prestigious international jockeys’ challenge, he does not expect to be among Sunday’s big Group 1 winners.
He said: “Eagle Way in the Vase is my best chance of a winner. He is around 8-1 but the others are off the boards.”
De Sousa knows more than most how to get the best out of a ‘rag’ in a top race, Arabian Queen sprang a 50-1 shock in the Juddmonte International three years ago, but the rider added: “There is no point being on a 100-1 shot in a Group 1. Sometimes you get offered a ride that has no hope.
“I would love to go to Dubai for the carnival but unless you ride for the ‘boys in blue’ you just make the numbers up and you don’t get paid enough to do that.
“I’ve had some good times in Dubai but there are no spare rides.”
Those good times included a Dubai World Cup win on African Story during a spell as retained rider for Godolphin, the “boys in blue”.
He also enjoyed Group 1 wins aboard Farhh and Hunter’s Light before he was let go by Sheikh Mohammed’s operation in 2014.
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Without the big-race glory those blue-bloods brought, De Sousa’s tireless work ethic came to the fore and he celebrated the first of his three champion jockey titles the following year riding as a freelance.
Ironically, one of the horses who could have given him a Classic ride, Dark Vision, who provided the rider with one of the most memorable moments of this season when weaving through from an impossible position to land the Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood has been bought by Godolphin.
De Sousa said: “I don’t think I’ll keep the ride on him. He is staying with Mark Johnston and he will have a say, so you never know.
“I got jocked off Pretty Pollyanna even though I won the Prix Morny on her but if they go for the Guineas I think I’ll ride her.
“Dee Ex Bee was another great moment. He nearly did it for me in the Derby. He is a staying horse for next year, I think they are aiming him for the Gold Cup.
“He’s a nice horse, he just had too many runs on fast ground. Will I ride him next season? I don’t know, it’s another question mark!”
Few punters would have any such doubts about the pocket dynamo who first arrived at Dermot Weld’s yard from Brazil back in 2004. He said: “It was very hard. I didn’t speak the language, I left 33 degree temperature and when I arrived in Ireland it was minus two. I just wanted to go back home.
“But my job with Dermot Weld was very good. I was breaking in the babies and working the horses on The Curragh.”
He moved to the UK to work for Dandy Nicholls, where he got together with Victoria, herself a former jockey.
He said: “We rode against each other in one or two races. The first time, I won.”
“That’s because you took my ride!” argued his wife. “I finished second.”
Their son Ryan has been bitten by the bug. He rides regularly and is a keen showjumper, but his dad does not think he has the temperament to follow him into race-riding.
He said: “I think he is too soft. You have to be hard on yourself to be a jockey and I can’t see it in him. He is too patient, too cautious.
“If you are a successful jockey it is a great life, he needs to be good at it and that can take you places. If not you end up at the bottom of the pile and you’re going to burn yourself out.
“I try my best. I don’t just want to put the colours on and go out to be a number. You need to have the skills.”
The skills are something De Sousa has been blessed with. Now he wants the Group 1 prestige that, it seems, even three jockeys’ titles cannot ensure.