|He’s come far. And he’s going places. A small man with a big talent. Four years into a British career and Silvestre De Sousa is on the rise. Word is spreading that Brazil’s former champion apprentice, who rode out his claim in less than a year and a half, is the real deal. Statistics support the impression.
Sixty winners have come his way this turf season, not forgetting his remarkable 44-1 triumph in the $250,000 Indian Derby in Mumbai back in the spring. Not that the tiny feet of this unassuming, pint-sized pilot - a popular character in the weighing room if you listen to his colleagues - are likely to leave the ground as a result.
“Things have gone well,” he says, flashing the wide smile that is never far form face. “Maybe it’s because I’ve had more chances, more rides, better horses, I dunno what it is. But it’s good.”
It is, indeed, good. Last year, after annual scores of 27 and 21, he boosted his rally to 35 winners. Reaching something similar again would, it seems, have satisfied him. “I don’t set targets. I just try to do my best,” he insists. “If I’d ridden 35 again this season, I would have been happy. To get to 60 already is unbelievable.”
It’s far from unbelievable, though, when you watch him ride - when you really watch and study him. On a horse, De Sousa is as one, a dovetailed joint; and accomplished horseman as a well as a skilful jockey. His judgement of pace, neat style, ability to settle his mounts, effective finishing methods and killer instinct are qualities that can only be admired. And they are. No fewer than 55 trainers have given him al leg up this season. And he’s ridden winners for 21 of them- testament, clearly, of his burgeoning talents and the diligence of his agent, Gareth Owen.
|DE SOUSA THE PUNTERS PAL
His riding craft was honed thousands of miles away at his home track, Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and close to where he was born and raised. The son of a farmer, he’s one of ten children. He’s also far and away the smallest member of the family, maybe (or then again, maybe not) due to the fact that he was born three months prematurely. No matter. He remains very much jockey-sized, and at just 5 ft tall, 7 st 12 lb and 28 years old, he has yet to see the inside of a sauna
“My father had everything on the farm, including a lot of cattle, and he also bred racehorses on a small scale,” says De Sousa, by way of explaining how and why he was introduced to riding at and early age. It was chance meeting with the leading jockey, Fosto Durso (nowadays one of the star turns in Macau), which encouraged him to make a carrier out of his diminutive size and equine understanding.
“To become a jockey in Brazil,” he says, “you have to go to the Racing School in Sao Paulo to learn. They invest in you to become a jockey; they pay for everything right through your apprenticeship, so that you never have to touch you money.”
Indentured to Pedro Nike Filio, the leading trainer, who has a 100-horse string, De Sousa was a star apprentice during the 12-month, three-meetings-a-week racing campaign. “You lose your claim after 75 winners and I lost mine in 16 months – probably too quickly,” he says, smiling again. What he lost soon afterwards was his freedom to build on his bright start. A bad fall left him with a broken arm, which sidelined him for six months.
De Sousa was interested in exploring pastures new. “I was going to go to Argentina and had never even considered England,” he says. He decided on Ireland, one of three Brazilians who took up an offer of work sent to the Jockey Club by Dermot Weld.
De Sousa spent nearly two years in Ireland, working for Weld and also “helping to break in the babies at Moyglare Stud”. But he had a licence to ride for only the last six of so months he was there, and although he had a handful or rides, none made the frame.
“I enjoyed Ireland, but it was different and sometimes difficult.” He says. The difficulty was part homesickness, but mainly speaking with a foreign tongue. “I didn’t have any English when went there,” he adds.
His saviour was Sally Carroll, wife of former Weld jockey Raymond, and mother of Gary, who last month hit the headlines as the Ebor-winning apprentice aboard the Willie Mullins-trained Sesenta.
It was Sally, who works for RACE, the racing academy, who taught De Sousa to speak English. “It was slow to come at first, but it’s better now,” he says.
A winter stint in Dubai with Dhruba Selvaratnam saw De Sousa pick up a few rides in Nad Al Sheba and Jebel Ali, but after arriving back in Ireland his career remained pretty much dormant until he met David Nicholls at the Curragh and took up his offer of a job in Yorkshire in the summer of 2006. By the end of that season, he’d ridden 26 winners and had also bagged the richly endowed Redcar Tow-Year-Old Trophy for Neville Bycroft on the largely unconsidered Danum Dancer. He was on his way.
“Right from the start, I got chances with Dany and then got contact with others trainers.” He says, gratefully, “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be having the time I’m having now.”
One way or another, that remark applies to De Sousa both professionally and personally. His partner of more than three years and the mother of their tow-year-old son Ryan is Vicky Behan, who was a Nicholls apprentice and no mean achiever herself in the saddle; she rode two winners on Peace Offering in Lady O’Reilly’s colours, which included the Gosforth Park Cup.
Behan, who had previously worked on the Curragh, can still scarcely believe that their paths had never previously crossed. “In Ireland,” she recalls, “we worked within two miles of each other, but it was only when Silvestre came to Dandy’s that we met and eventually started going out.”
The couple now live with the ever-active Ryan in Thirsk, an ideal base for De Sousa to ply his trade in the north of England, and it’s plain to see that Behan, who is currently coming to the end of three-year degree course in Equine Science, is supporting him every inch of the way. She says: “Communication wasn’t easy for Silvestre for a long time, but that has improved enormously – even if his texts are still a bit hard to understand. The other big difference is that he’s got a lot more contracts now. He’s getting to know people. And people are getting to know him.”
Come November 5 and De Sousa will be jetting off to India of a third successive winter shift, riding four days a week, mainly in Bangalore and Mumbai. Apart form his momentous Derby Success on longshot Antonios on a day when he rode a treble, he also won the Hyderabad 2000 Guineas the previous winter. He’s plainly as big a hit over there as he’s become in his adopted country.
Just how big the small man can become in years to come is anyone’s guess. And Silvestre De Sousa isn’t into guessing games. “I am enjoying it, riding lots of horses for loss of trainer,” says the Brazilian striker.
More of the same looks a pretty safe bet on current results.
This story appeared on September 28, 2009 in the Racing Post. Indiarace thanks Racing Post for use of the story.