Turn back the clock 12 months and Silvestre de Sousa was hoping for a year of consolidation. Having finally established himself in Britain, the Brazilian jockey wanted to sustain that momentum.
However, De Sousa, 32, quickly exceeded expectations even though he narrowly lost out to Paul Hanagan in a prolonged duel for the British jockeys’ championship.
The season closed with De Sousa partnering the Johnson-trained Fox Hunt into seventh place in the Emirates Melbourne Cup, after which the jockey received an invitation to spend the winter riding for Godolphin at the Dubai World Cup Carnival.
An impressive debut on the competitive Dubai circuit, highlighted by a double on February 9 (he won the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes on Sandagiyr and a 2,435m handicap on Songcraft), led to De Sousa signing a contract with Godolphin as understudy to Frankie Dettori.
“It’s been fantastic time, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” the jockey said ahead of the Dubai World Cup night on Saturday. “Everything has happened so quickly. Sometimes I have to pinch myself but obviously I’m delighted.”
It only started happening for De Sousa when he moved from Ireland to the north of England five years ago. Since then the no-frills rider has attracted attention for his strength, allied to acute tactical acumen. That doubtless helped him to appreciate the nuances of Meydan’s all-weather surface quicker than most, although the jockey plays it down.
“I rode some good horses at the Carnival,” he said. “It’s a new track for me, but I never had a problem with it. Some people find it a bit tricky to ride on the all-weather but when you ride nice horses it doesn’t matter.”
De Sousa has four mounts for Godolphin on Dubai World Cup night, closing with Mendip, for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, in the Group 1 US$10 million Dubai World Cup, sponsored by Emirates Airline.
“Mendip is a really smart horse and if puts his best effort into the race he could be thereabouts,” De Sousa said. “I wish I could have had a better draw (than stall 13) but it really doesn’t matter to me. If he is right on the night the draw shouldn’t be a problem.”
Rio De La Plata goes in the Group 1 US$5 million Dubai Duty Free, sponsored by Dubai Duty Free. “I rode the horse in some gallops at home. He is in great form and I look forward to the big night. He has lots of talent but it looks a tough race.”
De Sousa’s best chance of a winner on his debut at Dubai World Cup night could be down to Do It All in the Group 2 US$ 1 million Godolphin Mile, sponsored by Etisalat.
“I rode the horse to win (the Group 2 Zabeel Mile on March 1) last time out,” the jockey said. “I feel he goes into the race with a chance.”
De Sousa also rides Songcraft in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, presented by Longines.
The jockey maintained that big-race nerves are alien to him. “I never get nervous,” he said. “If the horses are good enough they will take me there. If not, I will have to wait until next year for my first winner on Dubai World Cup night.”