x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Soumillon still smiling

Even by the audacious standards of Christophe Soumillon the past few months have been a white-knuckle ride.

The Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon, aboard Shawanda, wins the 2005 Darley Irish Oaks.
The Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon, aboard Shawanda, wins the 2005 Darley Irish Oaks.

HONG KONG// Even by the audacious standards of Christophe Soumillon the past few months have been a white-knuckle ride. The racing world was shocked 101 days ago when it was announced the jockey and his patron of the past eight years, the Aga Khan, were going their separate ways at the end of the season after the owner revealed "human relations became difficult". Then three and a half weeks before the Prix de l'Arc deTriomphe, the rider suffered a truly horrific fall at Nancy. He sustained an open fracture to the elbow and was ruled out of action for up to four months. So what transpired then, on the eve of the Arc meeting, was truly remarkable. Christophe Lemaire, who was riding for Jean-Claude Rouget and was also due to take the job with the Aga Khan in 2010, broke his collarbone. Soumillon jettisoned his plaster cast to get back into the saddle and, amazingly, won the Prix Daniel Wildenstein on Tamazirte for Rouget. The next day he went one better, taking the Group One Total Prix Marcel Boussac aboard Rosanara, a filly owned by the Aga Khan, a horse he was back on because of Lemaire's injury. Soumillon certainly has a good scriptwriter. Two months on what does he make of that day? Smiling he says: "It was a really great moment because sometimes in life you think you are at the top and the day after you're not anymore, so you just want to enjoy life when it's coming. "Two days beforehand I was sitting it out for a few months and then first Rouget gave me the hope to come back and when I got the chance to ride Rosanara I was just so happy and surprised it happened. "I was probably the only one that thought it was possible. "They had jockeys for the other races but not one that knew Rosanara like I did so it was like a gift to me from his highness. "I don't think that everybody thought it was a good idea but his highness probably saw that I was trying very hard and he wanted to give me back what I gave to him for the years I worked for him." In person Soumillon is a likable, approachable character but his public reputation varies after a series of incidents during his riding career, such as his derision of trainer Andre Fabre that is thought to have cost him his job with the Aga Khan. But in a sport desperately fighting for its role in the public consciousness it remains laughable that he is criticised for his showman antics when celebrating a win. Soumillon defends himself saying: "Many times after the race I can't help but give my emotion to the people, why not? I know many times I have done it and it didn't give me a good return because many owners and trainers don't like it when you do this after the race, and it is also true that they are the most important people. They are working harder than you and they take more risks than you. "But I'm always trying to be nicer and I never tried to lose a race through a lack of effort or anything. Maybe showing emotion is what the people like, when they bet on you they want you for every race to try your best and it's what I'm trying to do. "Sure I'm trying to become somebody very important in racing but I cannot decide how people find me, if they think I am a leading figure then I will be very happy but you can't make yourself really different to what you really are." Soumillon, still only 28 and with a decade at the top behind him, has been riding in Japan since November and takes the ride on Jaguar Mail in Sunday's Hong Kong Vase. After a final elbow operation in the new year he'll ride for the remainder of the winter in Hong Kong before taking up his new job in France as stable jockey to Rouget. His dream is to find another Zarkava, the superb filly who won the 2008 Arc and who he believes would have beaten Sea The Stars in this year's Arc if the match had ever been made. Being on that huge stage is what drives him as he looks forward to what should be his most productive years in the saddle. "You saw with Mick Kinane this year he did great, great things because he had a great horse in Sea the Stars and last year I did great things because of Zarkava. I think you need the chance to ride champion horses in the season and I hope it comes back to me as soon as possible. "I'm not losing any confidence, I'm still strong in my health and my body also. I just want to be sure that I will stay on the big stage for many years." sports@thenationaal.ae Hong Kong Vase, 10am, Sunday, Dubai Racing Channel