x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Confident Soumillon leads Dettori in Carnival wins

The Belgian deserves a swagger and is an integral part of De Kock's tilt at glory come Cup night at the end of the month.

Christophe Soumillon rides Musir to victory in the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse last year. Pawan Singh / The National
Christophe Soumillon rides Musir to victory in the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse last year. Pawan Singh / The National

Right now, Christophe Soumillon is 100 per cent focused on doing his job on Dubai World Cup day and his flat racing career. But speaking to the two-time French champion jockey, you come away with the suspicion that he cannot wait for the day he can immerse himself in his passions - jump and harness racing.

One thing is for certain - whether he is holding the reins of a flat racing thoroughbred, a hurdler or a harness racer, he carries an air of unadulterated confidence. In the past that confidence has been seen as aloof arrogance and his impulsive nature has fallen foul of some in horse racing.

Yet sitting in the office at Blue Stables after riding out for Mike de Kock, Soumillon was open, friendly and talkative, and displayed not a whiff of arrogance.

The Belgian is a key part of De Kock's team for World Cup day on March 26. With runners such as the fillies Mahbooba, River Jetez and Reem, and possible World Cup hopes Bold Silvano, Musir and Golden Sword, the South African trainer holds a very strong hand.

"Mike's horses are really tough and stay on strongly to the finish," said Soumillon, who has 11 wins this Carnival, three ahead of Frankie Dettori.

"They have a lot of speed and he prepares them well for each race."

It could be argued that with more than 60 Group 1 wins on the flat, including two Prix de l'Arc de Triomphes and three each in the French Derby, and 1000 and 2000 Guineas, De Kock's jockey is entitled to a swagger should he feel so inclined.

Yet "confident" seems by far the most appropriate word with which to describe the 29-year-old.

As a champion flat rider, you would have to be confident in your abilities to risk injury and reputation by taking part in a Champion Hurdle contest. Not many hugely successful flat jockeys ever do such things, although it is worth noting that Ryan Moore, the three-time British champion, is one for one over obstacles.

Soumillon, who was on a retainer for the Aga Khan from 2002 to 2009, was forced to wait years for the opportunity to race over fences.

When he got the chance, he grabbed it with both hands. He demolished the 2010 French Champion Hurdle field on Mandali by a huge distance, putting an incredible two flights of hurdles between him and the rest and finishing the race while his competitors were still negotiating the last fence.

Recalling that outstanding victory over three miles, Soumillon, the son of a jump jockey, describes it as one of his most satisfying wins.

"For me it was one of the greatest moments in my career because my father was really proud that day," he said. "I mean, he is proud of my success but sometimes he doesn't show it too much, but that day I really saw in his eyes that he saw that I can do what I said I would do. And he was loving seeing me do it."

Jump jockeys get injured far more often than their counterparts on the flat but Soumillon said the prospect of falling did not enter his mind.

"I don't worry about getting injured," he said. "When you love something you don't worry about what might happen. When I was very young I jumped my ponies over the horse jumps because I wanted to jump like my dad."

Soumillon may not have been worried, but his wife, Sophie, a former Miss France, certainly was.

"After the race many trainers and people asked me to ride in jumping races in England and all over but I said I had to stop because my wife made me promise that if I won then I don't go again," he said.

Soumillon has also won harness races. "I am the owner of some trotting horses in France so my trainer and my friends, they wanted me to take my licence and try, and on my second try I won," he said.

But for now he is being kept busy with De Kock's horses and a new riding contract.

"[With] this kind of contract you can't ride over jumps," he said. "I have a great position here with Mike and we have some great horses and at the moment everything is great for me and my family."

sports@thenational.ae