The revamped Flat jockeys’ championship may not have pleased everyone yet there can be no doubt that in Silvestre de Sousa, racing has a most deserving winner.
Having come off second best in the title race on two previous occasions, the popular Brazilian had earned his moment in the spotlight and it was fitting that his family and friends were at Ascot on QIPCO British Champions Day to celebrate with him.
De Sousa earned his reputation as a freelance on the northern circuit and rode plenty of winners, catching the eye of David Nicholls and Mark Johnston among others. Godolphin then came calling for his services and although he rode some big winners in the famous blue silks, the association was brief as he soon made way for the duo of William Buick and James Doyle. Yet he did not let his dismissal affect him in a negative way – indeed, he appears to have used it as a spur to kick on. He now has his just rewards.
There are plenty of very good jockeys around but few that can be classed as elite riders. De Sousa is, arguably, one who can be placed in that category. His no-nonsense, aggressive style is in stark contrast to such as the occasionally brilliant Jamie Spencer or former colleague Richard Hughes, an outstanding horseman whose retirement, combined with the injury suffered by Ryan Moore, opened the door for de Sousa to strike.
Those who are at the very top of their profession make a real difference: it is no different for jockeys
Those who are at the very top of their profession make a real difference: it is no different for jockeys. Were it not for de Sousa, who is to say that Golden Horn would not have emerged from the Knavesmire on Juddmonte International day with his perfect racing record intact? He may have played the role of party pooper that day but his performance on Arabian Queen was truly outstanding and, perhaps, somewhat overlooked with the media focus largely on the Derby victor’s first defeat.
Along with de Sousa, one of the other title winners on British Champions Day this year was Muhaarar, easily the best sprinter in Europe, confirming his position
at the top of the speed tree with a decisive victory over Twilight Son.
The domestic programme for three-year-old sprinters was woefully inadequate, yet the introduction of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and the upgrading of the Champions Sprint to a Group 1 contest has revitalised the division completely. The BHA, Ascot and others who worked on these important changes deserve huge credit.
It would have been wonderful to see the son of Oasis Dream come out and take on the younger generation next year as a four-year-old, however Muhaarar’s value to Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s breeding operation, which has not enjoyed much luck with its stallions in recent years, is now immense. He’ll be getting exercise of a different variety at Nunnery Stud in 2016.
Next year will be an important one for the industry’s finances as momentum behind the racing right gathers pace, at a time when the levy is facing a £4 million decline. This could mean a reduction in the number of races run according to BHA Chief Executive Nick Rust.
In this month’s Big Interview, Rust explains why the Members’ Agreement – a tripartite decision-making structure involving the BHA, Horsemen’s Group and racecourses – is so vital to racing’s future and how it will make a huge difference to the controversial areas of the race programme and fixture list.
Rust, of course, was recruited last year from the sport’s long-time nemesis – the betting industry – and some had mixed feelings about his appointment. Yet if anyone was still unsure about where his true allegiance lies, the recent development that will force bookmakers to pay racing from their online betting businesses, or face a total sponsorship ban, should make the situation clear. In Rust, we trust.