Bill Esdaile catches up with Silvestre de Sousa on the eve of QIPCO British Champions Day
EVEN though the battle to be crowned Stobart champion Flat Jockey doesn’t officially end until after racing at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day, this year’s contest has been over for some time.
Silvestre de Sousa will take the title for the second time on Saturday having set a relentless pace since the campaign began in May.
But the margin of the Brazilian’s victory will make it no less sweet after his agonising defeat at the hands of Jim Crowley 12 months ago.
“Last year Jim had unbelievable support in the final weeks of the season and became unstoppable,” admits de Sousa.
“I picked up a few silly bans and he ended up edging me out in a great battle which went all the way down to the wire.”
Things have been different this season though, and De Sousa’s win aboard Withold in last Saturday’s Cesarewitch was his 150th of the campaign. It also kept him 40 winners clear of Crowley.
“It feels great to be champion again, in fact, it feels even better the second time around,” he said.
“It’s not been easy and I have worked very hard, but this is what I live for: every day, every week and every month of every year.
“It takes over your life completely and there is no time to sit back. You have to push yourself because the moment you allow complacency to set in, others capitalise on it.”
In his relentless pursuit of success, De Sousa has journeyed to most of Britain’s 60 racecourses since May, covering nearly 80,000 miles in the process.
According to Great British Racing, the sport’s promotional body in the UK, that’s the equivalent of driving around the earth along the line of the equator just under three times.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the car and I have to thank my driver Paul!
“He has made things so easy for me, meaning that sometimes I can just jump in the back without even knowing where we are going.
“Between him and my agent Shelley Dwyer, they have managed the season brilliantly for me.”
No jockey has ridden for a wider selection of trainers this campaign. The sheer number of those who have got behind him is a fact not lost on the champion elect.
“There are too many trainers to thank and I will always be deeply grateful for each and every one of them.
“I suppose if I had to single out two, it would be Mark Johnston and Roger Varian, who have backed me since the first day of the season.
“To have the support of powerful yards like theirs has made a huge difference.”
The first part of de Sousa’s long and winding road began back in his native Brazil, where he was brought up on a farm as the youngest of 10 children.
Remarkably, he didn’t sit on a racehorse for the first time until the age of 18. But as his opponents were to discover, he wasn’t one to waste time thereafter.
Having been crowned Champion apprentice he decided to up sticks and move to Ireland where he joined Dermot Weld in 2004.
“It was really tough and I missed home a lot,” De Sousa admits.
“My biggest battle to start with was getting used to the freezing cold weather. I could never feel my feet or my hands!”
The next chapter of the story saw him arrive at Dandy Nicholls’ stable in Yorkshire, where he rode 27 winners in his first season. More importantly, he also met his wife Victoria Behan.
“I owe Dandy so much”, he admits, reminiscing about the times spent with the colourful trainer who died earlier this year.
“He was a fantastic guy who I learnt so much from. It was him that really put me on the road.
“If he hadn’t given me the opportunity, I may also have never met Vicky, so his impact on my life was huge”.
The De Sousas have been together for 11 years now, and have been happily married in Newmarket for the last four of them.
They have a 10-year-old pony-fanatic son Ryan, who is quick to hand out advice to his father.
“Vicky and Ryan make everything I do worthwhile,” he admits.
“They are the rocks in my life and no matter whether things have gone well or badly during the day, they are always there for me.
“I’m hugely proud of what Ryan has achieved on his ponies and get more advice on my riding style from him than anyone else!”
There is another mini De Sousa on the way as the family are expecting their second child later next month.
The news is another reason to be excited for the jockey, who doesn’t mind if his children follow in his footsteps, but they’re aware it won’t be an easy path to tread.
“Ryan knows it’s not easy and it involves a hell of a lot of hard work,” he adds.
“He sees me come back very late at night sometimes having had a bad day, yet I always have a smile on my face. It’s important to keep smiling and always remember that it’s only a horse race.”
For the De Sousa family, it will be all smiles on Saturday.
Silvestre de Sousa will be crowned Stobart Champion Flat Jockey at QIPCO British Champions Day on 21st October. For tickets visit www.britishchampionsday.co.uk