The Stobart Flat Jockeys Championship runs from Saturday 30 April until Saturday 15 October, and looks likely to be a considerably closer affair this season.
Silvestre De Sousa romped to victory last year with 132 winners, a thumping 36 clear of his closest pursuer William Buick. His task was made that much easier when injury put paid to the chances of main rival Ryan Moore, and Richard Hughes curtailed his riding commitments prior to a switch to a career in training. This time around De Sousa is set for a three-way tussle with Moore and Godolphin’s James Doyle.
Moore was crowned Flat King in 2006, 2008 and 2009. His commitments have changed somewhat in recent times, and his role as top-jock for Ballydoyle plays havoc with any realistic shot at the jockeys’ crown. Nevertheless, he is still handily placed with just a couple of months remaining, and despite his obligations both in Ireland and internationally, he’s making a fair fist of it this summer.
The bookies have De Sousa as a near certainty to retain the title, yet Moore is as short as 3/1 with several and Doyle is generally a 5/1 shot. Godolphin’s outstanding campaign has certainly put Doyle in position to challenge, though his four winners at Glorious Goodwood was only half of the Ryan Moore haul. Silvestre De Sousa could only manage one win at the prestigious meeting thanks to the Mick Channon trained Elidor.
It’s been a lean spell for the reigning champion, with just four wins from his last 70 rides. He remains as busy as any in the saddle, and that continuing drive, whilst remaining fit, should still prove the difference between a second crown or failure. However, with Franny Norton and Joe Fanning grabbing the lion’s share of Mark Johnston mounts, De Sousa’s agent is tasked with booking rides wherever and whenever he can if the diminutive Brazilian is to be successful.
The jockey must also tread carefully in the coming months, with continuing issues surrounding his use of the whip. A ban in July following five offences since March, saw a decent lead in the title race whittled away, and he now stands just one ahead of Moore and three clear of Doyle.
De Sousa has plenty of fancied rides at Brighton and Yarmouth over the next 48 hours, before heading to Sandown and Newmarket. Mick Channon and Chris Dwyer supply the majority of those mounts.
That schedule contrasts sharply with that of Ryan Moore, who may not be seen this side of the Irish Sea in the coming week. James Doyle is also set for a quieter spell, with little if any action until Haydock and Newmarket on Friday and Saturday.
The title race is very much a case of quality versus quantity and it remains likely that quantity will prove the victor once again. Moore and Doyle are sure to push as hard as their bosses will allow. And should the race remain close into the latter stages, there’s every chance that the might of both Ballydoyle and Godolphin could yet prove a decisive factor, should they fully commit to the race.
It remains an intriguing battle, very much a David and Goliath affair, with David just about retaining ‘Pole’ position.