In Britain, the minimum riding weight is 8st 0lb for Flat jockeys and 10st 0lb for National Hunt jockeys, although apprentice or conditional jockeys can claim a 7lb allowance, which reduces the minimum riding weight to 7st 7lb and 9st 7lb, respectively. Consequently, while there are no rules or regulations regarding height, most male jockeys riding on the Flat in Britain are significantly shorter than average height – that is, 5’10” – simply because taller riders struggle to meet the weight requirements.
According to reigning champion trainer John Gosden, Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori, who stands 5’3” tall and can ride at 8st 6lb, or 8st 7lb, is ‘perfectly proportioned’ for a jockey. Indeed, Dettori is just an inch taller than the average Flat jockey and, although 5lb or 6lb heavier than average – after all, he is 48 years old and entering the twilight years of his career – Gosden was keen to point out the importance of a suitable physique and strength-to-weight ratio in any jockey. Generally speaking, Flat jockeys typically stand between 4’10” and 5’6” tall and weigh in between 7st 10lb and 8st 6lb – or, in other words, 5’2” and 8st 1lb, respectively, on average – but also need to be extremely fit, with an abundance of core, leg and shoulder strength.
Having narrowly missed out on the Flat Jockeys’ Championship, 165-161, to Paul Hanagan in 2011,
Brazilian-born Silvestre De Sousa was announced as a retained jockey for Godolphin in February, 2012. De Sousa had apparently impressed Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, founder of Godolphin, and his racing manager, Simon Crisford, while riding for North Yorkshire trainer Mark Johnston the previous season.
De Sousa relocated to Newmarket to ride alongside stable jockey Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori and, when Dettori announced his decision to ride on a freelance basis in 2013, became prinicipal jockey to Saeed Bin Suroor at Godolphin Stables. However, by May, 2014, the writing was on the wall for De Sousa as Bin Suroor switched his affiliation to veteran jockey Kieran Fallon, 49, of whom he said, ‘ I’m happy to give him a chance in all the big races’. Bin Suroor proved true to his word and the following November, when William Buick and James Doyle were appointed Goldolphin jockeys, De Sousa lost his retainer altogether.
Nevertheless, De Sousa bounced back from his sacking by Goldolphin in no uncertain terms. He won the Flat Jockeys’ Championship for the first time in 2015, with 132 winners, finished runner-up to Jim Crowley in 2016, with 148 winners, and won the jockeys’ title again in both 2017 and 2018, with 155 and 148 winners, respectively.
On August 23, 2018, Mark Johnston, who is based at Kingsley House in Middleham, North Yorkshire, became the most prolific racehorse trainer in Britain. Johnston saddled his first winner, Hinari Video, at Carlisle in July, 2017, but victory for the four-year-old Poet’s Society in the Clipper Logistics Handicap at York took his career total to 4,194, thereby surpassing the previous record set by Richard Hannon Snr. Sent off at 20/1, Poet’s Society made all the running under jockey Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori and held on gamely to beat 5/1 joint favourite Kynren by a neck. Johnston, who had saddled nine runners, without success, the previous day, admitted, ‘It feels a relief to get it out of the way.’
Richard Hannon Snr, who retired in 2013, held a training licence for 43 years but, while Johnston took just 31 years to beat the previous record, it is worth noting that the number of horse racing fixtures in Britain has increased significantly – thanks, in no small part, to the advent of all-weather racing – since Hannon Snr began training in 1970. Nevertheless, the new record is the equivalent of a winner a day, every day, for eleven-and-a-half years. In 2019, Johnston enjoyed his best season ever, numerically and in monetary terms, with 250 winners and £5.74 million in prize money so, while he had admitted that thoughts of retirement are never far from his mind, he continues to set the bar still higher.
Royal Ascot, running for five days in mid June of each year (Tuesday 16th June – Saturday 20th June in 2020), is one of the most highly anticipated events in UK racing. With its royal connections and history dating back to 1911, it’s one to watch for all ardent horse racing fans.
As is the nature of racing, it’s impossible to totally rule out big raced winners, and over the years outsiders have won even the most prestigious of Royal Ascot races. I recall Arcadian Heights winning the 1994 Gold Cup on his third attempt as outsider at 20-1.
2020 was no exception for big priced winners. There were several horses winning at big odds with bookmakers over the five days (Onassis and Scarlett Dragon both won as 33-1 outsiders). As often happens though, racing saves the best for last. On the final day not only did Frankie Dettori pull off an impressive treble (which as an accumulator would have been 150-1), but it also brought us the biggest odds winner in Royal Ascot history, co-incidentally also 150-1, Nando Parrado.
Coming in at only fifth on his Newmarket debut earlier this month, Nando Parrado simply wasn’t on the radar, and left punters and bookmakers stunned with a performance that earned him the title of biggest price Royal Ascot winner in modern times. He looked to have serious ambitions as he started the Coventry Stakes, featuring prominently. Qaader put down a challenge but there was only one winner on the day, Nando Parrado, ridden by Jockey Adam Kirby. Prior to this the longest-priced outsider winner in Royal Ascot’s history was Flashmans Papers in the 2008 Windsor Castle and Fox Chapel in the 1990 Britannia Stakes.
After the victory Trainer Clive Cox was more inclined to say he was shocked by the 150-1 price, rather than the win, “I was just saying it is not a shock. The price was a shock. He is a proper horse and we loved him from the start. It was always the plan to come here, it was just a sideways step on his first run.”. Before 2020, the biggest priced winner(s) in the Coventry Stakes was just 20-1 (Chief Singer (1983), Landseer (2001), War Command (2013)). At 150-1 with bookmakers – and much bigger on the exchanges – Nando Parrado has set a Royal Ascot record that’s going to be hard to top.