In front of a crowd of over 30,000 racegoers, the 37-year-old jockey beat some of the world’s best riders by topping the standings with 34 points following the conclusion of the four-race competition, setting a new record in the process.
After finishing second last year to Zac Purton, the Brazilian, who claimed his third UK Flat Jockeys’ Championship title in October, went one better with a fine performance across the four-race series.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club created Longines International Jockeys Challenge as a lead-up to the Hong Kong International Races, holding the inaugural running in December 1993.
Fourteen of the world’s top jockeys competed for the then three-race challenge. From that initial success, the HKJC decided to run it as an annual event, tweaking the format over the years until it evolved into the current 12-jockey four-race points-based competition.
Competing jockeys receive 12 points for a race win, six points for a runner-up and four points for finishing third with the overall champion taking home HK$500,000 (£50,000).
Keen to make amends for last year’s near miss, De Sousa collected points in all four legs of the Championship which sees horses allocated randomly to each jockey.
Ireland’s Colin Keane got his Hong Kong debut off to a fairy-tale start in the first leg. The 2017 champion of Ireland was making his first ever ride at Happy Valley and he made it a winning one on the John Size-trained Special Stars. Drawn widest of all in Gate 12, Keane broke alertly to take up a position in mid-division, tracking the leaders before launching his challenge off the home turn. Special Stars responded to run down the leaders in the home straight and won by a length and a quarter from de Sousa’s mount Midnight Rattler.
De Sousa struck in the second leg, with Gate 12 again proving no handicap, as he broke Jimmy Ting’s Glory Star from widest of all to take a lead that he was never to surrender.
US jockey Javier Castellano, who rode at double at the Breeders’ Cup last month, was making his first appearance at the competition since 2006 and threw down a challenge on Good For You. However Glory Star had too much in reserve and held on for a convincing win.
Keane picked up more points for coming in third on Tony Millard’s C P Power, meaning at the end of leg two de Sousa led on 18 points, with Keane second on 16, and Castellano third on six.
Vincent Ho got his name on the scoresheet in the third leg, when getting up close to home on Manfred Man’s Little Island, running down long-time leader Curling Luxury and Castellano. De Sousa could only manage third aboard favourite All You Know, but the four points made it 22 points overall and increased his lead over Keane on 16 to six with one leg to go. Ho tied with Castellano on 12 thanks to two second place finishes.
With the Championship up for grabs going into the last leg, de Sousa made it his in emphatic style on John Moore’s Experto Crede when dashing through on the rail to hold the challenge of Ryan Moore on the John Size-trained Bank On Red.
With none of his nearest rivals scoring points in that last leg, de Sousa finished well clear on 34 points courtesy of two wins and a second and third in the four legs. Keane was runner-up on 16, while Ho shaded Castellano for third.
Purton may have prevailed in last year’s event but he did not earn a point this time around, as did 2016 winner and pre-event favourite Hugh Bowman.
Speaking afterwards, De Sousa said: “When I looked through the draw and races this morning, I knew I had a bit of a job and would need a bit of help.
“The horse in the second race was in good form and came out of his other race well. I made the running and was happy all the way and I tried to stretch the field.
“I was told the last horse was in good shape and everything went very smoothly. I tried to come the shortest route with him and I felt I was in the right place as I followed the horse I wanted in front.
“When you go out there you don’t think about the money, you just think about the performance. I was leading coming into the last race last year and Zac (Purton) came and took the prize money. This year I went out there confident of giving it my best.
“When you are riding against the best like Ryan Moore, Hugh Bowman, Christophe Lemaire and Yutaka Take, it just feels like a dream and it is just exciting. When a moment like this comes, you have to make the most of it.”
Hong Kong racing returns at Sha Tin on Sunday (9 December) with the biggest day in the calendar, the Longines Hong Kong International Races. The ten-race card features four Grade 1 contests including the HK$28 million Longines Hong Kong Cup.