Two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe jockey Christophe Soumillon was sacked as the Aga Khan’s retained jockey in France on Tuesday after elbowing a rival out of the saddle.
The sacking follows Soumillon’s actions against fellow jockey Rossa Ryan during a race at St Cloud last Friday, which resulted in the latter falling and giving Soumillon a 60-day suspension.
“The Aga Khan Studs have made the decision to end their retainers with jockey Christophe Soumillon effective immediately,” the statement said.
Soumillon – one of the world’s leading jockeys, having jockeyed twice for the Aga Khan, from 2002 to 2009 and then from 2014 to this year – will still be able to don the famous colors should a trainer do so for keep possible necessary.
“From this week onwards, Soumillon may still occasionally ride in Aga Khan’s silks at the discretion of the French trainers and the Aga Khan Studs team,” the statement said.
The 41-year-old Belgian jockey rode his two Arc winners for the Aga Khan, Dalakhani in 2003 and the great Zarkava in 2008.
He finished second on the Aga Khan’s Vadeni in Sunday’s Arc Run, widely regarded as the greatest race in Europe.
Aga Khan Studs said “There is no intention of keeping a jockey in France for the foreseeable future.”
Soumillon said he was “very disappointed”.
“I realize I have to rebuild bridges,” he told the Racing Post.
“I am committed to showing commitment and desire to the owners and trainers who wish to utilize my services.”
– ‘Bad Publicity’ –
Soumillon had enjoyed a successful season through Friday, riding Vadeni to win both the French Derby and the prestigious Eclipse Stakes in England.
Indeed, on Saturday – the first day of the Arc Festival – he bid farewell at Longchamp with a win over Aga Khan’s runner, Erevann, in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein.
However, Princess Zahra, the Aga Khan’s daughter, spoke after Soumillon was dismounted and made clear her displeasure with the Belgian’s actions at St Cloud.
“Obviously it was an irresponsible and unthinkable thing to happen and do. It was very difficult to watch,” she said.
Soumillon – who, like Italian great Frankie Dettori, is a charismatic personality in racing and is married to a former Miss France – issued a profuse apology after the Ryan incident.
He faced a barrage of calls urging him to stop racing at the Arc weekend at Longchamp, the annual showcase of French racing.
Racing rules in France dictate that any suspension begins 14 days after the offense allowing Soumillon to race.
Also, jockeys cannot change owners once declared on their horses, unless the rider himself decides to retire.
David Redvers, co-owner of a horse Soumillon was scheduled to ride on Sunday, had urged the jockey to do the right thing and not divert attention from the race.
The French racing authority France Galop also made it clear that they were unhappy with his presence.
“We cannot be happy with what happened yesterday (Friday) and we are not happy with the bad publicity it has brought to racing,” said France Galop Chief Executive Olivier Delloye.
With over 100 Group One winners around the world, Soumillon’s talent is unquestionable. He has been crowned 10 times French Jockey Champion and in 2017 rode a European record of 306 victories in a calendar year.
Perhaps his greatest ride for the Aga Khan came at Arc 2008, when he led Zarkava out of the tricky stable to victory – the first winner to come from there since Prince Royale II in 1964.
However, he is not one to mince words with his rivals or coaches who have upset him – Vadeni’s coach Jean-Claude Rouget said “he can be hot-tempered”.
Soumillon was sacked by the Aga Khan back in 2009 for derogatory comments about legendary French coach and former mentor Andre Fabre. On this occasion the Aga Khan said “human relations have become difficult”.