Atzeni backs Postponed to deliver Arc triumph
Andrea Atzeni believes Postponed is the best middle-distance horse in the world at the moment and he hopes the Roger Varian-trained five-year-old will prove it by winning the 95th Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe run today at Chantilly while Longchamp is redeveloped.
It is a bit more than hope, actually, such is his faith in Postponed it is bordering on confidence. "It's exciting," explained the jockey who is unbeaten on Postponed in their last six starts, beginning with a narrow victory in last year's King George, when the horse was still trained by Luca Cumani.
"It's the biggest ride in my career. I want to do well because he is the favourite and a lot of people will be watching him. It's a great position to be riding the favourite for the Arc - four years ago, it would have been something to go out there and watch the race, let alone ride in it."
Now 25, Atzeni's rise through the ranks from apprentice to in-demand big-race jockey with a retainer for Postponed's owner, Sheikh Mohammed Obaid, has been swift. The horse who essentially proved the Sardinian sheep farmer's son was cut out for the big time was Kingston Hill, who earned the jockey rave reviews for his ride when runner-up to Australia in the 2014 Derby.
A few months later, the colt, also trained by Varian, gave the trainer and jockey their first Classic when he won the St Leger and, three weeks after that, he ran a mighty race to finish fourth behind Treve in the Arc. It was Atzeni's first taste of the race, though last year's no-pressure ride on 100/1 Spiritjim was more of a sightseeing trip through the Bois de Boulogne. Atzeni and Postponed go back much longer than six races, however. Atzeni rode him when he made his debut for Cumani at Newmarket as a two-year-old, finishing fifth at 50/1.
"His home work was always good, but never flashy. Even then, he was very laid-back and he's kept that trait all the way through," recalled Atzeni. "He's gorgeous looking, a gentleman, so relaxed and he has a great mind."
Atzeni is unable to put a percentage figure on how much comes down to ability and how much is down to what goes on in a horse's head at the highest level. "It certainly counts for a lot, though," he explained. "Obviously he has a big engine and he's a high-class horse, but having such a great mind makes my job so much easier.
"He jumps, he travels, he quickens for a big horse and he's a fighter. You can put him anywhere in a race, you don't have to have cover, he can go on any ground, from soft to firm, and he's won at York, Meydan and Epsom.
"With most great horses, there is some hitch: Sea The Stars needed cover because he could be keen, Frankel was very strong, Treve had to be dropped right in. But with Postponed, you just drop your hands, he settles wherever you want, he's totally uncomplicated.
"The best feel he ever gave me was at Epsom in the Coronation Stakes in June. It was like a piece of work for him and he quickened away from a good field to beat Found four and a half lengths. We'd taken him to Breakfast with the Stars for a look at the course, but he went round there like he'd been round Epsom, which some horses find tricky, every day of his life. I just changed my hands on him and he took off."
Atzeni, who rode his 100th winner of the year on Thursday, believes the son of Dubawi is quicker as a five-year-old than he was last year, and there is no question a horse of his size benefited from Cumani's patient handling before he was moved to Varian just over a year ago.
"Last year, he looked a bit of grinder," explained Atzeni. "But even in the Juddmonte International over a mile and a quarter, I had to go on three out because nothing could give me a lead any further."
Apart from Atzeni's competitive spirit, there is also something of a financial necessity to win Europe's richest race; the jockey has hired a jet to fly him and his brother, Luca, from Paris back home to Sardinia straight after the race for his cousin Martina's wedding banquet, where his 400 friends and relations will be hoping for a second very good reason to celebrate.