ANDREA ATZENI’S year will come full circle today if he carries Qatar Racing’s claret and gold colours to victory aboard the highly-promising Elm Park in the Racing Post Trophy – the final Group One race of the domestic Flat season.
This is the prestigious race that launched Atzeni’s career 12 months ago when he partnered Kingston Hill to glory, a breakthrough win at the highest level which would be the catalyst to a remarkable run of big race successes that culminated with the young Italian being picked by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani to replace Jamie Spencer.
“Doncaster, it’s where it all started,” the charming 23-year-old told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview ahead of today’s one-mile contest for two-year-old colts which has been won by five subsequent Epsom Derby victors in its 53-year history.
“Elm Park, he’s the best horse in the race and I’ll ride him as such. I’ve ridden him once – and won. The ground was pretty quick at Newmarket and he stumbled coming out of the stalls, but he just outstayed them.
“With this race, there are a couple of unexposed horses who could be anything – Sir Mark Prescott’s Celestial Path could make the next step up and there’s the Aidan O’Brien pair of Aloft and Jacobean. You have to respect a trainer who has won the race seven times.
“You don’t know if horses are Group One class until you try. Kingston Hill won his maiden, a Group Three and the Racing Post. It’s the same with Elm Park, this is another step up.”
Racegoers also have to respect a much sought-after jockey who is in the form of his life and who spent Thursday sorting out his visa so he can take up the ride on the Roger Varian-trained My Ambivalent – the winner of the Middleton Stakes at York’s Dante meeting – in Australia’s Melbourne Cup on Tuesday week.
The past six weeks have yielded a hat-trick of Group One victories for Atzeni and Varian, the astute Newmarket trainer who has been integral to the jockey’s success.
It began with Kingston Hill’s Ladbrokes St Leger win and was followed 24 hours later by the highly-promising two-year-old filly Cursory Glance’s success in Ireland’s Moyglare Stud Stake.
Speedster Belardo then took the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes on Friday last week, Newmarket’s top six-furlong race for two-year-old colts, and Atzeni freely admits that this is, potentially, the classiest horse that he has ridden.
But there is no question that Kingston Hill will always be Atzeni’s personal favourite after launching the Sardinian-born jockey’s career in spectacular style.
After the champion galloped clear of a quality field in last year’s Racing Post Trophy, that included Hambleton trainer Kevin Ryan’s subsequent French Derby winner The Grey Gatsby, the consensus among race watchers was that Atzeni would probably be usurped by a higher profile rider in the bigger races.
Not so. Atzeni believes the critical decision was taken before the Doncaster race. “They could have jocked me off then, people like Frankie (Dettori) and Ryan (Moore) were without rides,” he said.
“I didn’t have the experience but the owner Paul Smith and Roger Varian stood by me. That gave me a lot of confidence. Kingston Hill is the horse that put me on the map. It was a turning point.
“My first Group One. Second in the Epsom Derby. My first Classic when he won the St Leger. And a great spin in the Arc when fourth to Treve. I don’t think I did a bad job on the horse!”
He’s right. Yet Kingston Hill could have been even more successful if unsuitably quick ground in high summer had not ruled the horse out of races like York’s Great Voltigeur Stakes at the Ebor meeting.
That decision did, at least, allow Atzeni to win the Group Two race on Luca Cumani’s Postponed who is likely to be a major player in next year’s middle distance championship races. “He’s very good,” purred the jockey.
Yet it remains to be seen whether the partnership with horses like Postponed will remain in tact. The Ebor meeting saw Atzeni’s high-profile role with Qatar Racing become public knowledge and they will have first call on his services.
However, inevitable comparisons between Atzeni and his compatriot Frankie Dettori are misplaced. The former is a quiet individual who prefers his riding to do the talking while the latter is still a showman famed for his flying dismounts.
“I was surprised because I didn’t think they were looking for a jockey,” added Atzeni.
“I was in the car and I got a call to say they wanted to see me. I had a chat and it all went from there. I’m still young and they have only just started.
“The plan is for them to get bigger and bigger and to have horses all around the world – Britain, France, Ireland, Australia.
“It will be good to head off to the Melbourne Cup with my first Group One on the board in the colours.”
Just like last year.
Turn to The Yorkshire Post’s magazine for a photographer’s perspective on record-breaking jump jockey AP McCoy and the final of the race to become Yorkshire’s best dressed lady racegoer.