Silvestre de Sousa: Champion jockey on hopes for Classic triumph


De Sousa will be given a guard of honour by jockeys at Ascot on Saturday
Qipco British Champions Day
Date: Saturday 20 October Venue: Ascot Racecourse Coverage: Commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live Race times: 13:25-16:30 BST (Champion Stakes 15:50)

Silvestre de Sousa is seeking greater success in big races despite clinching the champion jockey title for the third time in Britain.

The Brazilian has enjoyed more than 1,500 career victories, but finds rides harder to come by in the top-level contests and has never won a Classic.

“Sometimes I kick myself about why I couldn’t get a ride in a big race,” the 37-year-old told BBC Sport.

“But I keep myself busy. I know I’ll have a chance, and will deliver.”

The jockeys’ title goes to the rider with the most winners, irrespective of the level, and while De Sousa finished second in the Derby with Dee Ex Bee this year, it was only his fourth ride in the Epsom Classic.

“The big races are dominated by the top trainers like John Gosden or owners like Godolphin or Coolmore,” he said.

“I’ve won the Dubai World Cup and Champion Stakes. It’s just I haven’t got a retainer [with an owner or trainer] with horses that could take me to more big races.

“I’d like to go for more quality and the big days. I would love to win the Derby – it is every jockey’s dream.”

He should get the chance to compete for a major prize on 5 November in the Melbourne Cup – the “race that stops a nation” in Australia – when he rides Withhold as Roger Charlton bids to become the first British trainer to win the contest.

“They’ve come very close before, and hopefully I could be on the first,” he said.

“If he gets in with a low weight, he’s a nice horse who is climbing up the ratings and has won the Cesarewitch and the Northumberland Plate.”

Silvestre de Sousa, with 147 wins, is 30 ahead of his nearest rival Oisin Murphy in the title race

The 75,000-mile journey to being champion

De Sousa has a gruelling schedule, covering a distance of nearly 800 miles in races alone this year.

The Newmarket-based rider recalls flying to the Welsh racecourse Ffos Las for an afternoon meeting before returning to ride at Chelmsford in Essex that evening.

“That was a long day. I had four favourites and none of them won – I ended up with one winner from 10 rides. I probably got up for track work at 6.30, flew across the country and got back about 11.30 at night,” he said.

He has clocked up 75,000 miles on the road, employing a full-time driver who takes him to meetings – from Ascot to York, competing at 28 different tracks.

All this from a man who did not sit on a racehorse until he was 18, and arrived from Brazil speaking no English.

On British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday, he will collect the Stobart Flat Jockeys’ Championship trophy and join Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori as the only current jockeys to have won the title three times.

“It’s amazing to be compared to Ryan and Frankie. If the chance is there to win the title again, I’ll give it my best,” he said.

Recent champion British flat jockeys
2017: Silvestre de Sousa 2012: Richard Hughes
2016: Jim Crowley 2011: Paul Hanagan
2015: Silvestre de Sousa 2010: Paul Hanagan
2014: Richard Hughes 2009: Ryan Moore
2013: Richard Hughes 2008: Ryan Moore

De Sousa will miss riding at Ascot because of an 18-day suspension, under a totting-up procedure for using his whip above the permitted level on too many occasions in a six-month period.

The rider was frustrated by the punishment and considered skipping Champions Day altogether, but will be there to collect his trophy.

“I had a bit of doubt but that’s the thing you work so hard for – to be a champion – and I felt I had to be there on the day,” he said.

“I’ve ridden 837 horses and I got banned over five rides. It’s something probably the BHA have to look at. I picked up a ban and you can’t break the rules.”

Like father, like son

The riding gene has been passed on to De Sousa’s 11-year-old son Ryan.

“He’s a very neat rider. We have five ponies at home,” said De Sousa.

“I asked him what he would like to be when he’s grown up and he said: ‘I’m going to compete for England – be a top British showjumper.'”

Brazilian factory worker to Champion Flat Jockey