Friday, October 26, 2018

It's a pleasure to again say well done to Silvestre de Sousa as he becomes champion jockey for the third time.

Silvestre is a credit to the industry. A lot of other jockeys could certainly learn from his work ethic, which is second to none. He goes up and down the country, day in, day out, and consistently performs at the same high level. Whether it be a Monday at Brighton or a Group 1 day at a major festival, Silvestre does not change. He never turns his nose up if asked to ride at a meeting some top riders might choose to swerve. He really is a true grafter.

There are some people who describe Silvestre as a quantity over quality rider, in that they say he doesn't ride many big-race winners or get many big-race rides. I think that's unfair.

The simple truth is there are generally very few open opportunities in Group 1 races.

Aidan O'Brien has his own team of jockeys, headed by Ryan Moore, who is used by Sir Michael Stoute if not needed by Ballydoyle. John Gosden has a stable jockey in Frankie Dettori. Godolphin have two retained riders, William Buick and James Doyle, who is also now first choice for any high-profile horses trained by William Haggas. Qatar Racing also have their rides sorted courtesy of Oisin Murphy, who has had such a fantastic season on Roaring Lion that he is often now the wanted man for anyone who has a decent free ride.

The trainers and owners named in that list are responsible for a sizeable percentage of the runners in Britain's showpiece races. As an example, outside of those trainers and owners only two other people were involved at the five-day forfeits stage of the Qipco Champion Stakes. Neither of them is British and one is a trainer based in the Czech Republic.

Despite the pool of horses available to him in the most prestigious events often being small, Silvestre has continued to enjoy plenty of big-race success this year, including for constant supporter Mark Johnston. This has also been a year in which Silvestre was again among the winners at Royal Ascot, while he gained his latest Group 1 success aboard Pretty Pollyanna in France. As further testament to the esteem in which he is held, Roger Charlton has booked him to ride Withhold if that horse gets into the Melbourne Cup.

Silvestre's attitude is simply to go out every day and try to ride as many winners as he can. I think that's the right attitude, particularly as it's obvious he loves what he is doing.

He is very much like me. I would always rather have ridden four winners at Bath than one Listed winner at Doncaster or York. There were times when I had to go to the Dante, Ebor or Leger festival for two or three rides, only one of which had a real chance. If I was having to pass up a hatful of winning opportunities at a moderate meeting somewhere else it annoyed me. This game is all about winning. Silvestre understands that. Furthermore I'm certain that being champion jockey has caused him to gain in confidence. I know that happened to me and I think it's only to be expected.

Congratulations also go to the sport's new champion apprentice Jason Watson. He got off to a great start this year and things began rolling for him. He rides extremely well and he also comes across well on television, which these days is so important.

This could be a big day for our soon-to-be former apprentice, Nicola Currie, who partners the Balmoral Handicap favourite Raising Sand for Jamie Osborne having already won one valuable Ascot race on the same horse earlier in the month.

Nicola is just about to fly the nest and we wish her well. She has come on in leaps and bounds at Weathercock House, worked very hard and leaves with hopefully a long and successful career ahead of her.

In my piece on Silvestre de Sousa I wrote about his wonderful work ethic. Nicola is very similar in that regard. In fact, last Sunday morning she was mucking out and riding out for me - although I was doing exactly the same!

Young jockeys absolutely have to learn the importance of working hard. For a top apprentice, even one blessed with tremendous ability, the two years after losing your claim are crucial. They determine how your future is likely to pan out - and if you're not prepared to put in the hours you stand no chance.

Over those next two years Nicola will have to be willing to get into the car and drive to Nottingham to ride one horse she knows cannot win. It might seem a pointless exercise, but it really isn't, and to embrace that sort of approach it helps if you've gone through a tough apprenticeship.

A jockey's early years have to be hard. Those kids who have it easy are the ones who think they're then having a bad day if they have to drive four hours for one moderate ride. The ones who get through a demanding apprenticeship are the ones who will flourish, not just as jockeys, but in life in general.

Nicola was on the verge of giving up when she came to me. I had two apprentices at the time, so I told her opportunities would not immediately be plentiful. However, I was up front with her and said if she put her head down and worked hard for six months she would be rewarded. That's what happened. It was Phil McEntee who got her going on the all-weather last winter but it was through riding for us and making the mistakes raw apprentices inevitably make that she became ready to take those good rides. To her credit she took them with both hands.

Nicola was a very good rider from the beginning. What she had to do was learn to race-ride. In the early days, partly because she had never taken part in pony racing, she couldn't grasp it. As a jockey you don't need to be strong but you do need technique and a good racing brain. That's where I was able to be of most help to Nicola. I taught her the tricks of the trade and how to get the best positions in races without falling foul of the stewards.

In the last few months Nicola has shown everyone she now has an excellent racing brain. It would be a fitting end to her memorable season if she can use that brain to good effect at Ascot.