Being officially crowned champion Flat jockey at Ascot was a “surreal” moment for hard-working Silvestre de Sousa.
The unassuming Brazilian has fought his way to the top of the tree just 12 months after losing his job with Godolphin.
De Sousa, 34, was the only jockey to reach three figures in the first year of the revamped title and had the crown tied up several weeks ago.
He received his Stobart-backed trophy from the now-retired three-times title holder Richard Hughes and Lester Piggott, together with a cheque for £25,000 – of which he is to donate £3,000 to stalls handlers – and has had to pinch himself.
“It’s a bit surreal really,” he said.
“I tried to put the idea of winning the champion jockey title to the back of my mind while it was still in the balance, but now it feels great.
“I’ve always believed I had the ability to win the championship and, thanks to the owners and trainers who have supported me this season, I’ve proven I can.”
Big-race winners have been hard to come by this year, but De Sousa – riding freelance after being released by Godolphin – did pull off the shock of the season on Arabian Queen, who took the scalp of champion three-year-old colt Golden Horn in the Juddmonte International at York in August.
He added: “It’s just a nice position to be in. It’s been a hard season, but it means a lot to me.
“I rode for two years in Brazil and that’s where it started. I’ve been here for ten years now; it was hard in the beginning to break in, but I’ve had a lot of support.
“I never thought of anything like this. When I first came to Europe I just wanted to have one ride, to get a feel of the turf, and today – look where I am. It’s very special to have my family here. They are very important to me and it is a big surprise that my mother flew over.
“It’s been a great season. My agent Shelley Dwyer has done a great job and I’d like to thank everyone.”
De Sousa’s wife, Vicky, said: “We’re very proud of him. He’s done it the hard way – he hasn’t had a day off for three months – but he’s done it. His mother has come all the way from Brazil as a surprise and it’s made our day. Silvestre had no idea and cried his eyes out when he saw her.”