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Silvestre de Sousa hopes for a Hong Kong return later this year and calls on British racing authorities to rethink an overstretched racing programme.
It is the height of summer in England but as Silvestre de Sousa goes about his business at ‘Glorious Goodwood’ this week, the Brazilian is already looking ahead to the winter and a hoped-for return to Hong Kong.
The three-time British champion jockey has had to fight hard this year to make things work – much like the sport generally in Britain these days – after his three-season retainer with King Power ended last year. But he is working to strengthen old connections at home and build towards a return to Sha Tin after opting out of a Hong Kong Jockey Club contract last December that would have run from February to mid-July.
“The quarantine was a big issue as to why I didn’t go last year but Hong Kong is the main target this winter if the Jockey Club licences me, and I think the quarantine time will be less this time around,” De Sousa told The Report.
“This time it’s only a week and you never know, maybe it will be less by the time it comes around.”
De Sousa is made for Hong Kong: able to fire a horse from the gate; his powerful, light-weight frame well-balanced; herculean in the drive to the line; with that added allure of being a proven champion, he is the embodiment of what the city’s race fans and owners love in a jockey.
Not only that, he has an impressive record on the tough circuit. His first two short winter stints in 2015-16 and 2016-17 each yielded 16 wins – highly-respectable tallies – but his third, in 2018-19, was remarkable and cemented his reputation.
Silvestre De Sousa wins on Glorious Forever in the G1 Hong Kong Cup. (Photo: HKJC)
That campaign began with a three-week spell that included a Group Two win on the John Moore-trained Eagle Way, victory in the International Jockeys Championship and a success in Hong Kong’s richest race, the G1 Hong Kong Cup, aboard Glorious Forever from the stable of rising local hero Frankie Lor.
His five-month tenure that season is perhaps the best short stint by any jockey. He wound up with 44 wins, a total that at the time of his departure in March 2019 had him third in the premiership.
When Hong Kong did not work out last winter, though, he shifted plans to Saudi Arabia and tasted local Group One success.
“Racing is improving in Saudi,” he said. “The big night is very competitive; they’re buying a better quality of horses but it’s still a work in progress.”
Racing is improving in Saudi. The big night is very competitive; they’re buying a better quality of horses but it’s still a work in progress.
De Sousa has had 10 rides at Goodwood this week and a handful more to come before the five-day festival ends. But his mounts, for the most part, have been double figure odds and only one slated for a Group race.
The man who was once the number one for Godolphin is not getting the support from the bigger operations that his abilities and record would suggest he should. Old allies Mark and Charlie Johnston have chipped in and provided a Listed win on the exciting juvenile filly Dance In The Grass recently, while the Simon and Ed Crisford stable are solid supporters, but his 31 wins and 303 rides are spread mostly across a number of mid to small-sized stables.
“Because I was associated with King Power for three years, I had to be there for King Power but that meant I lost other rides, those spare rides I would have picked up, so I have to earn back that support,” he explained.
Silvestre De Sousa celebrates his win in the International Jockeys Championship. (Photo: HKJC)
The Brazilian believes the condition of the sport in Britain at present exacerbates the difficulties for jockeys.
“When you look at the fields, there used to be big fields but now they’re small fields; you used to see a dozen horses in a Group One but now there are six or seven runners; you see the same trainers winning the big races, there aren’t as many outsiders with chances in those races. You’d have big handicaps with 22 runners and some of those now have 10 runners; we have handicaps sometimes with four runners or three runners,” he said
As a case in point, the Class 2 1200-metre handicap at Goodwood on Saturday, the consolation race for the featured 28-runner Stewards’ Cup handicap, has only 12 runners.
“The number of horses here in England is down and that’s because prizemoney is down,” he observed. “More small owners are running away and the big owners are cutting back. I think British racing is in a bit of trouble but I have to hope they’ll be able to fix the problems. There just aren’t enough horses for the number of jockeys we have.”
I think British racing is in a bit of trouble but I have to hope they’ll be able to fix the problems. There just aren’t enough horses for the number of jockeys we have.
De Sousa’s mounts this season have earned total prize money of £616,449, averaging a return per runner of £2,034. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, a single Class 5 handicap – the lowest grade – carries total prize money of HK$810,000, which is the equivalent of £92,224 (AU$160,248).
“Prizemoney is a big issue and there are far too many races. I think they should cut down the number of races and make them more competitive, on a Saturday you might have six meetings but we don’t have enough horses for that. That’s how I’m seeing it,” he said.
“The way Hong Kong is run, the money goes back into racing. In England, the BHA does not have the kind of power the Hong Kong Jockey Club has and we have the bookmakers here, they’re two different systems. As much as bookmakers put money into racing, they’re not putting in enough for the amount of racing we have.”
Silvestre De Sousa outpoints Oisin Murphy in a tight finish at Newbury. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
De Sousa believes the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) would do well to heed elements of Hong Kong’s 88-meeting model.
“Less is more,” he added. “Here it would be better if we had three or four meetings a day, not six or seven, and instead of 300 fixtures a year, maybe 250: the people who have all the numbers and the information, they could work out what that number should be.”
In the meantime, De Sousa looks at the Hong Kong numbers and the equation is simple: come winter time he is eager to return to the thrill of full fields on Wednesday nights at Happy Valley and those big-race Sundays at Sha Tin.
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