It has been three months since Silvestre de Sousa arrived back in Britain after one of the most successful stints in Hong Kong for a visiting jockey ever.
Strong support from owners and trainers allowed the Brazilian to not only surpass the 20 winners that he had hoped for on arrival, but more than double that figure. By the time he boarded the plane on the evening of March 24, he had notched up an impressive 44 victories at a strike rate of around 15 per cent.
Walking away from this support and the “magnificent” season in Hong Kong was, by his own admission, difficult.
However, Britain’s three-time champion jockey was not lacking in reasons to return home; not only had his wife, Vicky, given birth to a baby boy, but he also had the exciting prospect of a new job as retained jockey to the late Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s King Power Racing looming large.
King Power Racing has been a burgeoning presence within British racing over the past few years. The former Leicester City chairman, who tragically lost his life in a helicopter crash at the football club’s stadium last October, had invested tens of millions of pounds into high-quality bloodstock over a three-year period.
Last year at the Goffs London Sale, he memorably dropped just short of £2 million on five of the 13 lots to sell on the night.
Thanks to flag-bearers such as four-time Group Two winner Beat The Bank, King Power’s blue and white silks have become a familiar sight at British racing’s biggest occasions over the past three seasons.
They also started to crop up on the world stage late last year, as Beat The Bank contested the Group One Hong Kong Mile and Well Done Fox lined up in the Grade One Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
The loss of Srivaddhanaprabha is still keenly felt within British racing. That is not to say that there has been no further investment: on the contrary, Srivaddhanaprabha’s son, Khun Aiyawatt “Top” Srivaddhanaprabha, has been keen to not only sustain but expand the operation’s presence in Britain, adding Sir Michael Stoute, Karl Burke and Tim Easterby to the list of trainers responsible for the 100-plus horses in training this year.
“It’s very sad for a man who had a lot of passion for racing and put a lot of effort into building up his King Power operation, but it’s nice to see his son Top carrying on his vision and racing his horses,” De Sousa said.
For De Sousa, who has come to value quantity in recent years in his relentless pursuit of the jockeys’ championship (he was successful in 2015, 2017 and 2018), the retainer means a step up in terms of quality of horse on a day-to-day basis.
“When you’re freelance, it’s hard to get the top-quality horses,” he said. “As a jockey, you are always looking forward to the Classics. You hope to have a Classic horse and when you have a retainer job, you have every chance.”
The quality of King Power’s string has been clear for all to see this year, and De Sousa has already enjoyed several feature successes. Highlights so far have included Morando’s victory in the Group Three Ormonde Stakes at Chester and Bangkok’s Group Three Classic Trial success at Sandown Park.
More recently, the pair took the Srivaddhanaprabha family to Epsom Downs. Bangkok contested flat racing’s most famous race, the Group One Derby, while Morando ran in the Group One Coronation Cup. Unfortunately, neither could land a blow on the notoriously difficult track.
It looks likely that both will get the chance to redeem themselves at Royal Ascot this week, however, with Bangkok entered in the Group Three Hampton Court Stakes on Thursday and the Group Two King Edward II Stakes on Friday, and Morando entered in the Group Two Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday.
A further 18 King Power horses also hold entries at the Royal meeting. Of those that look likely to run, De Sousa is particularly optimistic about Listed winner Queen Power in the Group Two Ribblesdale Stakes on Thursday and German 2,000 Guineas winner Fox Champion in the Group One St James’s Palace Stakes on Tuesday.
“I’m especially looking forward to riding Queen Power and Fox Champion,” he says. “They are of course running in top races, but that’s what they are capable of. They have to go for the top races.”
Talk of success on the biggest of stages leaves one wondering whether Britain’s reigning champion jockey feels more pressure now that he is employed by an outfit for whom success is not only financially valuable, but sentimentally valuable, too.
“I do have pressure, because I want to do well for them and see them doing well,” he reflects. “But the pressure is no different to the pressure I felt going for a third champion jockey title last year. You just want to do your job well, that’s what you’re being paid for. I don’t want to just do well, I want to do very well.
“It’s very important to have a job for a big operation, and this one is growing, and it’s very important to want to grow with them.”