By Simon Mapletoft
Top trainer Mick Appleby’s title defence could hinge on the exploits of a Brazilian jockey. And no, it’s not newly crowned Champion and stable favourite Silvestre De Sousa.
Appleby is putting his faith in Rafael Schistl, a top jockey in Scandinavia who will report for action at the trainer’s Oakham stables at the end of November.
It was a chance meeting in Norway last month that convinced Appleby to give the experienced Brazilian a chance to shine on the British tracks after riding many high profile winners in Scandinavia and Germany.
“Rafael won the Group 3 that my horse Big Country finished third in at Ovrevoll at the end of August and we just got chatting. He’s ridden hundreds of winners overseas but is keen to test himself in England.
“He’s obviously got a lot of experience and will join up with us after he’s spent the next month riding in Mauritius,” adds Appleby, who has the reliable Ali Rawlinson to call upon and will also link up again with former stable jockey Andrew Mullen.
Big County spearheads a typically strong team and will aimed at the Group 3 Winter Derby and the £200,000 Easter Classic on Good Friday.
“It won’t be easy to retain my title as I’m sure the likes of Mark Johnston and Godolphin will be running plenty of nice horses again, but I’m happy with my team and we’ll give it our best shot,” he adds.
Appleby only managed to secure the championship last season in the final few days of the season after being pushed almost to the wire by young Archie Watson. He sent out 40 winners from 361 runners.
In 2017, the Barnsley-born trainer, who is closing in on his 150th winner at his specialist track Southwell, did remarkably well to finish second to Johnston despite the upheaval of moving from his Newark base in early December.
He won his first title in 2015/16 after another tight tussle, this time with David Evans, and was again runner-up in the previous two campaigns to namesake Charlie (Appleby) and that man Johnston.
Here, Appleby nominates 12 stable stars to keep a close eye on this winter.