Christophe Soumillon, one of the world’s greatest jockeys and rider of Vadeni in tomorrow’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, was banned for 60 days on Friday after an extraordinary mid-race incident at Saint-Cloud when he elbowed fellow jockey Rossa Ryan off his horse.
Soumillon, a two-time winner of the Arc, was riding Syros in a six-runner Group Three race for two-year-olds over a mile. He was at the back of the field while on his outside Ryan, riding Ralph Beckett’s Captain Wierzba, appeared to be minding his own business when, five furlongs out, Soumillon looked to steer his mount toward Ryan’s, leaned over and elbowed the British-based jockey.
Caught by surprise, Ryan lost his balance and went out what is proverbially known as the “side door”, cartwheeling along the ground several times before coming to a halt. It was his good fortune coming off the horse at 35mph that the ground was very soft and he was able to walk away unhurt.
Syros went on to finish second but the stewards disqualified him and banned Soumillon for two months, although he is able to ride this weekend, the biggest in the French racing calendar, at Longchamp as bans do not start for 14 days after they have been incurred. He will, however, miss potential big paydays such as British Champions Day, the Breeders’ Cup, and the Japan Cup.
Soumillon, a 10-time French champion and the Aga Khan’s retained jockey, was immediately repentant.
“It was a terrible thing that happened,” he admitted. “I was riding my race as always and two of us wanted the same spot. I thought I was just easing Rossa over so I could stay behind Ryan [Moore, on the winner Continuous]. Unfortunately, on the very soft ground, he became unbalanced and came off.
“That was the first surprise because I wondered what had happened. When I watched the pictures back I could see clearly what happened – that I had gone elbow to elbow with him which, unfortunately, I should never have done. I made a mistake and I am upset for my owner and trainer as well as for his, it has resulted in them both losing out. The worst is that when a jockey falls like that it could have been a lot worse for him.
“I’m reassured he is OK and I went and apologised straight away. That’s the best news of the day. It’s the kind of thing nobody wants to see in our sport. I totally understand the reaction of people who question what happened and feel it was totally unacceptable, so it is for me to suffer the consequences.”
Ryan appeared to play down the incident, describing it as “one of those things”.
“I got a bump and lost my balance,” he said. “The horse is fine, I am fine. That’s the main thing. I’m 100 per cent.”
Beckett, who was at Ascot, said: “Christophe rang to apologise before his television interview. It’s difficult to be outraged when anyone apologies – so I’m not.”
Though jump jockeys frequently put rivals through the wing of an obstacle in the days before TV cameras, the last incident remotely similar to this was when Kieren Fallon deliberately pulled Stuart Webster off his horse after crossing the line at Beverley in 1994. There had been some argy-bargy between the two mid-race and there was also some "afters" in the weighing room.
On that occasion, Fallon got a six-month ban for "violent and improper conduct" from the British authorities. There will be plenty arguing that even if the end result was not quite what Soumillon intended, the jockey has got away lightly with 60 days.