Silvestre de Sousa is back in Hong Kong and the British champion made his way to the Sha Tin sand yard this morning to get the leg-up on Eagle Way (124lb), his mount in this Sunday’s (4 November) big feature, the Group 3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap (1800m).
“It feels like I’ve never been away!” the Brazilian beamed.
De Sousa is in town on a four-month contract, two seasons after he notched 16 wins during the second of his two previous winter stints. The rider did make a short stop in Hong Kong last December for the International Jockeys Championship, and, having recently carried off his third UK championship with 148 wins, he is again booked for the star-studded Happy Valley challenge on 5 December.
“I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “It always feels like it’s a big competition, you get that sense here because you’re riding against the best jockeys – they’re picked for the day. It’s all about the rides you get because I’m sure every jockey competing that night can ride the winners.
“The prize money helps and it makes it exciting, but when you’re riding that night you’re just thinking about riding the winner.”
But De Sousa’s immediate focus is this weekend’s 10-race fixture at Sha Tin, at which he has nine rides.
“It’s exciting, there are a lot of good jockeys here so I hope to get a few rides each meeting and get on the right ones. I’m looking forward to Sunday,” he said.
“I’ve got a lot of rides already booked, so the pressure will be on to ride a winner. The fact that I’ve been here before makes it a bit easier, people still remember me.”
Eagle Way’s trainer John Moore got in early with his booking for the weekend feature, but he has found that the rider is already hot property.
“I’ve been on the phone so much that I have a sore ear but he’s very hard to get, he’s fully booked. This horse was the only one I could get him for! He’s booked for the next few weeks,” the handler said.
“I had him booked a month ago to ride Werther initially but the owner preferred that we miss this race and give the horse a little more time into the Jockey Club Cup before going into the Hong Kong Cup. When that was decided, we put him on Eagle Way.”
Vase is Eagle’s way
De Sousa partnered the G1-winning chestnut through a gallop on the dirt track at 7am. The six-year-old, a running-on third to stablemate Beauty Generation in the G2 Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m) last time, worked in company with Helene Charisma and looked to be in fine fettle as he clocked 1m 22.3s for the 1200m hit out (final 400m in 24.5s).
“He went really nicely, it was just to get a feel of the horse, but he feels focused and in good health,” the rider said.
Moore is looking for a good run in the Ladies’ Purse, a race he has won five times down the years. The G1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) on 9 December is Eagle Way’s primary goal.
“The Ladies’ Purse will give him a chance to get some mileage into his legs with the Jockey Club Cup (2000m) on the horizon and the grand final in December. I’m delighted with the progress so far and we’re expecting a big run on the weekend,” the trainer said.
“He hit the line so well – he’s hit a purple patch of form and we’re just hoping he can reproduce that run on Sunday. The handicap definitely gives him a squeak.”
De Sousa Learning every day
De Sousa, meanwhile, has clearly returned to Hong Kong in good spirits off his excellent season in Britain and is invigorated for the challenge ahead.
“This last season was good, I picked up a Group 1 win, and Group 2s and Group 3s, and I had some good festivals – Goodwood, Ascot and York – so I’m quite happy with the number of winners and how the season went overall,” he said.
“The goal is to be healthy and be safe, and try to get on the right horse – I haven’t set any targets for winners. The jockeys here are very good; Zac is doing fantastic and there are plenty of others, as well. And it looks like Joao is coming back in, which will be great – he’s a big hero here.”
And, like many riders who have been through the Hong Kong experience before, he credits the tough circuit as being a good learning ground.
“I think you learn every day in your career because you make mistakes and you get things right at the same time, but I did pick up a lot of things here; and a lot of good things, so I’m pleased for the couple of spells I’ve had here in the past. They have brought me forward in my career,” he said.
The Ladies’ Purse Handicap will also feature two-time G1 winner Pakistan Star (133lb), a horse De Sousa rode four times in 2017. That gelding’s Tony Cruz-trained stablemates Time Warp (131lb), another dual G1 hero, and Exultant (131lb) are also in the nine-horse line-up.
The race also features Time Warp’s talented younger brother, the exciting rising star Glorious Forever (113lb) from the Frankie Lor stable, as well as the Richard Gibson-trained Gold Mount (128lb). Horse Of Fortune (116lb), Prawn Baba (113lb) and Dinozzo (113lb) complete the field for a contest that dates back to 1846.