has com­piled a book of se­cret sto­ries from rac­ing’s top brass to raise money for In­jured Jockeys

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS - Jonathahn Pow­ell

Rais­ing funds for In­jured Jockeys with tales about the big names

The for­ma­tive years of sports­men on their way to the top are in­vari­ably the most in­ter­est­ing. That is why it has been such fun this sum­mer putting to­gether a Christ­mas book con­tain­ing magic memories from rac­ing’s greats for the In­jured Jockeys Fund.

Off Track of­fers a brisk and amus­ing can­ter through the early memories of many of our sport’s finest names in­clud­ing Lester Pig­gott, Frankie Det­tori, John Fran­come, Paul Ni­cholls and Sir An­thony McCoy.

I can­not claim any credit for sug­gest­ing the sub­ject mat­ter. That came from Diana Foulkes whose hus­band Bill was a top am­a­teur jump jockey in the days when men were men and no quar­ter was asked or given.

Eigh­teen months ago Diana wrote to over one hun­dred well known rac­ing notables ask­ing them to con­trib­ute en­ter­tain­ing tales about their youth­ful ex­ploits in the sad­dle to be pub­lished in a book to raise funds for the IJF.

When the re­sponse was a shade lim­ited I of­fered to step in and nudge the memories of those who were too busy to put pen to pa­per.

It led to a se­ries of fas­ci­nat­ing in­ter­views with big names past and present who were keen to sup­port Diana’s ven­ture.

Frankie Det­tori cheer­fully came clean about the day he in­curred the wrath of Jack Berry af­ter ig­nor­ing his pre-race in­struc­tions at Ch­ester. A bril­liant car­toon by Birdie of the mo­ment Jack caught up with the jockey he de­scribes as a lit­tle Ital­ian prat sits proudly on the front cover.

Birdie’s ex­cel­lent car­toons add colour and life to a num­ber of tales while vet­eran pho­tog­ra­pher Bernard Parkin de­liv­ered sev­eral fas­ci­nat­ing snaps from his ar­chives in­clud­ing one of a ridicu­lously youth­ful look­ing Derby winning trainer seem­ing close to ex­haus­tion as he re­turns in tri­umph on a mud-spat­tered chaser at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val.

Paul Ni­cholls of­fers a frank con­fes­sion about the day he sab­o­taged the dough­nuts at a bak­ery where he worked as a teenager to help pay for his first race­horse. Ear­lier this month he gen­er­ously took time out from his hec­tic sched­ule to pose for some pub­lic­ity photos for the book at his lo­cal bak­ery.

Other en­ter­tain­ing cameos from the past in­clude a hi­lar­i­ous ac­count of John Fran­come’s job in­ter­view with Fred Win­ter and an un­ex­pected twist in Lester Pig­gott’s ac­count of his first win­ner as an ap­pren­tice at the age of 12. It couldn’t hap­pen now.

Then there is the cu­ri­ous story of how the peer­less Sir An­thony McCoy was swiftly brought down to earth by the Liver­pool con­stab­u­lary when he rang his mother af­ter his Grand Na­tional tri­umph on Don’t Push It.

My favourite con­tri­bu­tion in Off Track comes from the ever pop­u­lar clerk of the course Hugo Be­van whose first day in that role at Hunt­ing­don was en­livened by the sight of two race­course stew­ards shout­ing en­cour­age­ment on the run-in to the jockey of a horse they had clearly backed.

In re­tire­ment Hugo spent two two happy years on an art course at War­wick Univer­sity where one of his tasks in­volved draw­ing nudes.

The fun starts when he meets one of his mod­els in her day job but you will have to buy the book to hear the full em­bar­rass­ing de­noue­ment.

Rac­ing has so many di­verse char­ac­ters I sus­pect I could have filled three books if time and space al­lowed.

One man who will def­i­nitely be on the short list if there is a se­quel is the splen­did 2017 cham­pion jockey Silvester De Sousa who has led from the front all sea­son and was pretty much out of sight by high sum­mer af­ter a lu­cra­tive month in June which saw him ride six win­ners on two sep­a­rate days.

One of ten chil­dren of a farmer who lived in Sao Paolo, his first skills in the sad­dle were learned round­ing up cat­tle on his fa­ther’s work­ing horses.

Small and en­er­getic, stand­ing barely five foot tall, he pro­gressed through the Rac­ing school in Sao Paolo to be­come cham­pion ap­pren­tice in Brazil with 75 win­ners.

A move to Ire­land in the hope of a more lu­cra­tive ca­reer in Europe saw him mark­ing time for two years at the Cur­ragh rid­ing work and break­ing in year­lings for Der­mot Weld.

“I was noth­ing when I ar­rived from Brazil, no­body,” he re­calls with a cheer­ful shrug of the shoul­ders.

“I went to Mr Weld be­cause he was a big man in Ire­land and fa­mous all over the world. But I was just a work rider. The hard­est part was deal­ing with the freez­ing weather in the win­ter. It was a shock and at times I was home­sick and wanted to jump on the next plane back to Brazil.

“Look­ing back now I en­joyed Ire­land but it was dif­fer­ent and some­times dif­fi­cult.”

Af­ter two bar­ren years he was pre­par­ing to re­turn home when a chance meet­ing led to an of­fer to work for Dandy Ni­cholls in­York­shire.He gained his first suc­cess in Eng­land on Sonic An­them on New Year’s Day, 2006.

Soon he was rid­ing win­ners reg­u­larly on the North­ern cir­cuit for Ni­cholls. Other trainers were not slow to spot that he gave ev­ery­thing a ride, was ex­cep­tion­ally strong and fit and pos­sessed of an al­most tan­gi­ble will to win. The boy from Brazil was on his way.

He in­sists, “If it wasn’t for Dandy I wouldn’t be where I am to­day. He was the one to give me a chance and through work­ing and rid­ing for him I got con­tact with other trainers.”

Pun­ters have re­ally warmed to the en­er­getic Brazil­ian those last few years. He reached his first cen­tury of win­ners in 2010, and a year later was just pipped by Paul Hana­gan in their sus­tained duel for the cham­pion jockeys’ crown.

When Godol­phin snapped him up as their re­tained jockey his fu­ture seemed as­sured. But it was a trou­bled time for the

boys in blue and the ar­range­ment was not a great suc­cess for ei­ther party though you could hardly blame the jockey for Godol­phin’s fail­ings. Within two years he was back to chas­ing win­ners all over the coun­try as a free­lance and there was no ap­par­ent bit­ter­ness at the part­ing of the ways.

De Sousa sug­gests, “What hap­pened to me hap­pens to ev­ery jockey at some point. I be­lieve in my­self and what I can do. I only had a short time with Godol­phin but at least I can say I had a good time.

“I was given a great op­por­tu­nity, I took it and I don’t think I could have done any bet­ter than I did.”

Within a year of los­ing his job with Godol­phin, Silvester De Sousa was cham­pion jockey de­spite miss­ing the best part of a month dur­ing the sea­son for a se­ries of mi­nor rid­ing in­fringe­ments. If he was try­ing to prove a point he could not have done it more bril­liantly.

He couldn’t quite match the fire­power of Jim Crow­ley the fol­low­ing year but nor­mal ser­vice has re­sumed in 2017 with de Sousa hold­ing a lead of around 40 over his near­est chal­lengers for much of the past three months.

Light, bright, cheer­ful and un­be­liev­ably fit, he is the go to jockey for trainers when the money is down as demon­strated ruth­lessly on Oc­to­ber 14 by his no-non­sense ride in land­ing a na­tion­wide gam­ble on With­hold in the Ce­sare­witch at New­mar­ket from the front.

Yet for all De Sousa’s ex­cel­lence it is puz­zling that the top yards in this coun­try still of­fer the new cham­pion few op­por­tu­ni­ties to shine in Group One races.

The bonus for him is that on many a day this sum­mer he was mak­ing hay at the mi­nor meet­ings while his chief ri­vals for the ti­tle con­tested valu­able events else­where.

He would not be hu­man If he didn’t won­der what more he has to do to get the call reg­u­larly to ride in the races that mat­ter most in the cal­en­dar.

He con­cedes, “I don’t know why I haven’t been get­ting bet­ter horses to ride but per­haps what I have achieved so far is not enough.

“Be­ing cham­pion the first time didn’t change any­thing for me. I thought it would turn things round for me but I ac­tu­ally found it tougher last year af­ter I topped the ta­ble in 2015. I couldn’t be­lieve it.”

No one can deny that in 2018 Sil­vestre de Sousa de­serves more chances at the high­est level.

If they don’t come then you can be sure he will con­tinue his stamina sap­ping rou­tine as be­fore, do­ing what he does best, trav­el­ling thou­sands of miles each week, of­ten rid­ing at two meet­ings a day, al­ways giv­ing value in his re­lent­less quest for win­ners. Off Track is pub­lished by Rac­ing Post books at £10 with pro­ceeds go­ing to the In­jured Jockeys Fund.

Sil­vestre De Souza on Viren’s Army (cen­tre)

Sil­vestre De Souza

Frankie Det­tori

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