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Life now on the up again as de Sousa eyes title

Silvestre De Sousa
Silvestre De Sousa
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THE career of Silvestre de Sousa has taken many twists and turns since he lost the 2011 jockeys’ championship on the final day of a tumultuous season to his great rival Paul Hanagan.

He became retained rider to Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin racing empire for the best part of three years, won the world’s richest race – the Dubai World Cup on African Story – and then lost his job with the ‘boys in blue’ to the mercurial William Buick and James Doyle.

However, racing’s roller-coaster has once again turned full circle and the serious neck injury sustained by Ryan Moore in the starting stalls at Newmarket last week now leaves Brazilian-born de Sousa primed to win the title that eluded him four years ago.

A treble at Leicester yesterday afternoon saw de Sousa, who served his formative riding years in North Yorkshire with, among others, Mark Johnston, took him to the 52-winner mark for the current campaign – one clear of the stricken Moore whose record-breaking nine winners at Royal Ascot a month ago already seem to be a distant memory.

He failed to add to his tally at Doncaster last night, the racecourse which witnessed the denouement to the 2011 championship race, before a frenetic schedule today will take the diminutive rider to Nottingham for five rides before returning to Yorkshire for a further three mounts at Pontefract tonight.

He is likely to be a sought-after rider at the forthcoming Go Racing in Yorkshire Summer Festival that starts at Ripon tomorrow afternoon, and which will feature all nine of the region’s racetracks for the first time thanks to the inclusion of a Flat fixture at Wetherby on Tuesday.

With so many potential rivals like the aforementioned Moore and the soon-to-retire Richard Hughes, the victor for the past three years, being ambivalent about the championship in spite of prize money being introduced, it would be foolish to bet against de Sousa who is back in the groove with the type of polished riding that caught the eye of Godolphin in the first instance.

De Sousa is now the 8-13 odds-on favourite with William Hill whose spokesman, Jon Ivan-Duke, said: “De Sousa is in pole position for the title, but there appears to be very little interest among any of the top riders to chase the championship this year.”

As for de Sousa, he moved to within one of Moore – widely regarded as the world’s best jockey – when coming from last to first on the Mark Johnston-trained Martini Time to land the Cold Overton Nursery Handicap at Leicester.

The filly missed the break and appeared ill at ease in the early stages but she picked up in the second half of the seven-furlong contest and saw off the challenge of Hillside Dream to win by half a length.

“She’s a nice filly. That was good, she likes the ground and she’s tough,” said de Sousa whose thoughts then turned to his injured rival. “It’s very sad for Ryan. I just wish him all the very best and hope he recovers quickly and comes back safe.”

When asked if he now had a great chance of winning the title for the first time, he replied: “I hope so.” Those three words could not have been in starker response to similar questions earlier in the week when he suggested he was a 100-1 chance and denied that he intended to mount a serious challenge.

He then drew level with Moore 30 minutes later when completing a quick double on Potternello in the Gaulby Selling Stakes. The Mick Channon-trained filly travelled nicely before pulling four lengths clear. “They went a nice gallop. I went up and hit the front too soon but she kept up the gallop,” said the rider, whose treble came on the newcomer Rhythmical from the aforementioned Johnston’s Middleham yard.

With Moore expected to be sidelined until the autumn, it remains to be seen whether any Flat jockey will look to travel the length and breadth of the country in order to give chase to de Sousa in a championship that will now end on Qipco Champions Day at Ascot on October 17 rather than at Doncaster’s traditional season-ending finale three weeks later.

This move, a sop to pique the interest of the very top jockeys before international commitments like the Breeders’ Cup and Melbourne Cup, appears not to have had the desired effect, hence why the title is already Silvestre de Sousa’s to lose with three months to go.