Silvestre de Sousa’s return to the UK could hardly be going better, and on Saturday he has every chance of adding a second Group 1 win to Elmalka’s recent QIPCO 1000 Guineas success when he partners Charyn in Newbury’s £400,000 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes.


The three-time champion jockey left for Hong Kong with an enviable CV, but his time there ended under a cloud with a 10-month ban. After an absence of 18 months, and at the age of 43, there was no guarantee his old contacts would welcome him back with open arms, but he has hit the ground running, and that is due in no small part to his association with Charyn. 


Roger Varian’s four-year-old has had this as his target since he won the Doncaster Mile on the first day of the turf season, and with a race fitness advantage over the two market leaders his length and a quarter defeat of Poker Face in Sandown’s Group 2 bet365 Mile (Witch Hunter fifth of six) gives him every chance here.


De Sousa, who has already won a Lockinge, can scarcely believe how well things are going and said: “It’s been an amazing start to the year for me. Charyn got me going and then Elmalka came along in the Guineas. I thought it would be hard for me to ever win a Classic now, as I couldn’t find one good enough when I was with Godolphin or King Power, but she just landed in my lap.”


He added: “Charyn ran a lot of big races last year and they say he’s a bigger and stronger horse this time. Only time will tell if he can win a Group 1 this time, but he’s a good, willing partner and I’m thrilled to keep the ride after winning the Listed race at Doncaster and the Group 2 at Sandown. It’s nice to be associated with such a good horse.


“He didn’t win by a huge margin at Sandown, but he did everything I wanted him to and I delivered him in time in what was a bit of a tactical race. If the ground is on the slow side it will be beneficial to him. Roger is very happy with him, and I feel blessed to ride him.”


Recalling his association with easy 2013 winner Farhh he said: “Farhh would be one of the best horses I ever rode. He was second to Frankel twice in Group 1s and then won the Lockinge easily before beating Cirrus des Aigles and Ruler of the World in the QIPCO British Champion Stakes. He was a top-class horse.” 


There were doubts earlier in the week about the participation of early favourite Inspiral, but following a drying day on Wednesday she has been declared, along with her stable-mate Audience, a habitual front-runner who also races for the Cheveley Park Stud. Concern about the going is understandable, as she was a long way below her brilliant best in soft going at Goodwood last year, and any significant deterioration in conditions could lead to a rethink.


A six-time winner at the highest level, most recently when getting up close home for a scintillating success in the mile and a quarter in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita, John and Thady Gosden’s mare will be tough to beat if getting the go ahead, and nobody would welcome a big win in a race like this more than her new partner.


Kieran Shoemark has an impossible act to follow in taking over from Frankie Dettori as stable jockey, but he benefits from regular advice from his predecessor and he has learned to be patient. He said: “It’s my biggest ride yet in the job, without a doubt. Inspiral is an exceptional mare who is proven at the top level again and again, with six Group 1s already. It’s a privilege to be riding her and I’m really looking forward to it.


“She felt great when I sat on her in a piece of work. She’s fresh and well and it will be great to get going on her. Some say she can be a bit of a challenging ride with her occasional slow starts, but I think she’s got better in that department and I’ll be taking advice from Frankie on her anyway.


“Frankie is Frankie and they are big boots to fill, but I speak to him before all of the good rides and he’s a great sounding board. He’s offered me a lot of good advice and I’m sure I’ll be getting more tips and guidance. He knows these good horses so well and he’s very willing to help.”


He added: “It’s been a steady enough start, but a slow start isn’t necessarily a bad thing as John himself told me from his own recent experience. It’s very early days and I’ve just got to be patient. A lot of the horses have been needing a run after such a wet winter, but I’m sitting tight and I know it will come. Some of them haven’t fired yet, but most of them have been running well and there’s plenty of ammo.”


French challenger Big Rock has a length and a quarter to find with Inspiral on Prix Jacques Le Marois running, but he left that form well behind with his runaway six-length win in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot, after which he was crowned the best miler in the world. 


Any further rain Newbury would suit Big Rock better than Inspiral. However, while he will be ridden as usual by Aurelien Lemaitre, this will be his first start since his recent switch from Christopher Head to Maurizio Guarnieri.


The four-year-old carries the Yeguada Centurion colours of owner-breeder Leopoldo Fernandes Pujals, who has enjoyed extraordinary success since discovering racing relatively late in life. He didn’t start breeding thorough thoroughbreds until he was 72, but he also has four-time Group 1 winner Blue Rose Cen, and he bred Breeders’ Cup winner Hard To Justify and 1000 Guineas third Ramatuelle, both of whom he sold.


Hi Royal and Royal Scotsman were second and third respectively in last year’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas (Flight Plan in rear) and both would merit respect on that form, but neither has won since their two-year-old days.


Hi Royal was third afterwards in the Irish equivalent, when Charyn was fourth and Royal Scotsman a disappointing favourite, and an encouraging return at Newmarket along with the booking of Ryan Moore offer hope here.

A really competitive field of ten is completed by Saeed Bin Suroor’s Real World, who ran into a superstar when second to Baaeed here two years ago but no longer seems to be operating at that level, notwithstanding his win in Bahrain in March.