Postponed potential to be best in world '“ Atzeni

ANDREA ATZENI is adamant '“ big race favourite Postponed will deserve to be regarded as the best middle distance Flat distance horse in the world if he wins today's Juddmonte International at York.

YORK HOPE: Postponed and Andrea Atzeni winning the Great Voltigeur Stakes at the 2014 Ebor Festival. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA.

As befits a £960,000 race, the richest ever to be staged on the historic Knavesmire, it will be no walk-over for Postponed or Atzeni – their rivals include the likes of Eclipse hero Hawksbill, French raider Dariyan, King George victor Highland Reel and Yorkshire’s The Grey Gatsby.

And then there is the unknown, namely the fact that Postponed is dropping back in trip from a mile-and-a-half to 10 furlongs and missed his intended King George defence at Ascot last month because of a slight virus.

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Yet Atzeni, Sardinian-born like his great friend and idol Frankie Dettori, could not have been more positive ahead of the Juddmonte, the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival’s curtain-raiser.

“He has natural speed, he’s quick and he has that bit of class,” the 25-year-old jockey told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview. “Great horses travel and he should be able to handle it. I don’t think it will be a problem, in fact it won’t be a problem.

“I’m very lucky. Horses like this, they don’t come along too often. He’s very special and you could be talking about the best 10-furlong and mile-and-a-half horse in the world if he wins at York.”

Like Atzeni, who left home at 14 to move to Milan before moving to England, it’s been some journey for Postponed who runs in the distinctive yellow colours, with black polka dots, of Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum.

A slowly maturing horse, Postponed first came to prominence two years ago when winning the Great Voltigeur Stakes for Atzeni and the horse’s then trainer Luca Cumani.

Yet, to the surprise of many, connections bypassed the Ladbrokes St Leger, the world’s oldest Classic. They always believed that the horse, sired by the great stallion Dubawi, had the potential to be a middle distance champion and this was vindicated with a convincing win in last year’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the first of five successive victories.

A win in France followed before Postponed was switched from Cumani’s yard to the stables of Roger Varian who oversaw the horse’s two high-profile wins in Meydan in March, including the Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night, followed by a mesmerising win in Epsom’s Coronation Cup on Derby day.

Since York 2014, Atzeni’s journey on the racing merry-go-round saw him leave Varian to become one of Qatar Racing’s retained riders in 2015 – before returning to his old boss because he missed being associated with one top trainer on a daily basis.

Yet the partnership with Postponed survived.

“I always thought he was going to be a good horse after the Voltigeur,” revealed Atzeni.

“Mr Cumani thought he would win the King George the next year and he did. From a two-year-old, I always thought a of lot of Postponed – I didn’t think he would be this good. Epsom was his best run, I think, because he beat four group One winners.”

Atzeni is clearly relishing his riding thanks, in no small part, to his burgeoning association with Varian from the moment the young rider arrived on these shores as an unproven teenager with little English to his name. “He’s the nicest trainer to ride for,” says the jockey..

It’s been the making of Atzeni who has won the last five Group One races at Doncaster (three Racing Post Trophies and two St Legers) and who probably needed a spell with Qatar Racing to realise his good fortune.

Though he increased his prize money to £3.3m, in part because of Simple Verse’s St Leger win and his association with Postponed, his number of winners fell from a career-best 125 in 2014 to 76 because the Qatar role offered little flexibility when it came to picking up spare rides.

Yet 71 wins to date, and a career best strike-rate of 18 per cent, vindicate Atzeni’s decision to link up with Varian again and today’s first prize of £545,000 will add significantly to the £1.7m that his horses have already accrued this year.

“Prize money is more important than wins. The bigger the prize money, the better the races you’re winning,” adds Atzeni who is the son of a Sardinian farmer and grew up unaware of his compatriot Frankie Dettori’s great feats until he moved to Milan. “Numbers are very, very important and you need to keep all your percentages as high as possible.

“It would also be nice to get a Group One at York, I haven’t had one yet. I was looking at Frankie’s stats the other day after his 3,000th win. It’s not the 3,000 races that he has now won, it’s the races he has won. Arcs, legers, Derbies, Breeders Cup. People forget the good horses he’s ridden. You have to draw inspiration from him. Being a jockey is great if you’re lucky to ride for good people, great trainers and great owners. I love it.”

And horses like Postponed.

Take Cover on track for Nunthorpe: Page 11.