In March of this year, Franco Da Silva notched up his 150th Korean winner and in the process leapfrogged Joe Fujii to move into 2nd place in all-time list of foreign jockeys in Korea. Along the way there has been a Korean Derby win as well as a stint riding a Triple Crown winner and representing Korea overseas and Da Silva heads into the Good Friday meeting at Busan lying in 2nd place in the 2019 Jockey Premiership.
Yet as with any visiting rider – indeed with any jockey – there have been setbacks and it’s only now, after more than two years, that the 40-year-old Da Silva feels he has truly adapted to life in Korea and on the Busan racetrack, having mastered some of the tricky local rules.
“When I started here, I got a lot of suspensions and I couldn’t really understand why. Wherever I have raced, I’ve never had any trouble but suddenly I was getting suspended what seemed like almost every week – I think I had more suspensions in my first year here than in rest of my career put together”.
That career has taken Da Silva across the world. Born in Brazil although now settled in Ireland, the jockey has won big races in his native country and has also ridden in India, the UAE and Germany, among others.
It may have taken him a while to figure things out, but there was never any doubt that he knew how to ride winners. Arriving on the South Coast in the early autumn of 2016, he partnered an impressive twenty-one horses to victory in the remainder of that year including I’m Your Father in the Listed Gyeongnam Do Min Ilbo Cup. The successes have subsequently continued at a steady tick; fifty-nine in 2017 followed by forty-five in 2018, but it is only now that Da Silva believes Korean punters are seeing the best of him.
“Now I’ve figured it out and the local jockeys have started to respect me too. It’s become much easier, but I think it’s only since the end of last year that I would really say I’ve become comfortable. I didn’t really enjoy it for a time and was almost ready to leave but the suspensions have stopped, and the winners have come.”
Franco Da Silva, picture Korea Racing Authority
Touch wood, 2019 has so far been suspension-free for Da Silva and the clear run has seen him to 2nd place in the Jockey Premiership with thirty winners from 175 mounts so far this term, drawing a blank on just one weekend. Support has flowed from across the backstretch. “I’ve got on well with all the trainers right from the beginning. Stable 15 (An Woo-sung) has been very good to me and of course, Bart Rice too, but really every trainer has been very supportive.”
Da Silva’s biggest race wins in Korea so far have come for perennial Champion trainer Kim Young-kwan. He got the nod on 2016 Triple Crown winner Power Blade in both the Busan Owners’ and Kookje Shinmun Cups in 2017, obliging both times, but it’s another horse that has provided his abiding memory. “I think Power Blade is the best horse I have ridden here but Ecton Blade has to be my favourite. I won the Derby on him and for a jockey, winning any Derby is very special” said the jockey of the colt he guided to triumph at Seoul last May by a full three-lengths.
Da Silva also went to Kranji in Singapore for the same handler, riding Today to an excellent 3rd place in the KRA Trophy. It would, however, be that horse who would later bring at least a temporary end to the association between trainer and jockey. “Mr. Kim wasn’t happy with my ride on Today in the Korea Sprint (when he came 11th) and since then I haven’t ridden very much for him”.
His services have been gleefully snapped up and Da Silva has proved himself a very popular figure among Korean racing fans. “I like to think I’ve always been popular with fans as they know I give everything in every ride. Wherever I have ridden, racing fans know that if they choose my horse, they will get a run for their money – even if I was riding in a donkey race, I’ll give it my best”.
While Ikuyasu Kurakane’s foreign jockey record of 317 Korean winners may still be some way over the horizon, Da Silva is on course for his best season in Korea yet and looking forward to another summer in Busan. There is though one downside of his success: “My family is in Ireland, I visited them in December and again at Lunar New Year. Last year I used to go home whenever I got suspended – now I don’t get suspended, I don’t get to see them as much!”.
Punters will be hoping that it’s on the racetrack that they see a lot more of Franco Da Silva over the coming months.
Franco Da Silva has seven rides on the Good Friday card, most of them in with at least placing chances, with Ocean Phoenix in race 7 looking the pick of them.