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Andrea Atzeni aims to hit back of net on Stradivarius

Italian replaces compatriot Frankie Dettori on ‘horse of a lifetime’ in Goodwood Cup and insists the pressure is off

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Andrea Atzeni has ridden Stradivarius three times in Frankie Dettori’s absence, either through injury or suspension, and won all three, including the eight-year-old’s first two Goodwood Cups

Andrea Atzeni has ridden Stradivarius three times in Frankie Dettori’s absence, either through injury or suspension, and won all three, including the eight-year-old’s first two Goodwood Cups

Andrea Atzeni has ridden Stradivarius three times in Frankie Dettori’s absence, either through injury or suspension, and won all three, including the eight-year-old’s first two Goodwood Cups

Just about the last person likely to get stressed about replacing Frankie Dettori on Stradivarius in tomorrow’s Al Shaqab Goodwood Cup is Andrea Atzeni, although even he admits he would not be human if the nerves did not kick in at some stage.

Atzeni has ridden Stradivarius, the most accomplished stayer of this and pretty much any generation, three times in Dettori’s absence, either through injury or suspension, and won all three, including the eight-year-old’s first two Goodwood Cups.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back on him,” he said. “I haven’t ridden him in a race since Goodwood 2018, but I sat on him on Thursday for a breeze. He seems in good form and he looks good.”

Atzeni, it is fair to say, is a cool customer, a natural horseman and, if Dettori is almost the caricature of an emotional Italian and either up or down with nothing in between, countryman Atzeni is the polar opposite; he is almost horizontally laid-back. Nothing appears to faze him.

He has a farmer for a father and a dentist for a mother, and his cousin Giovanni is the more famous jockey in the family, having won the iconic Palio di Siena race eight times, including the most recent running.

At 15, Atzeni joined Alduino Botti’s stable in Milan and within two years he had moved to Botti’s son, Marco, in Newmarket. Atzeni’s first big winner was in the 2009 Cesarewitch on Darley Son and he has not really looked back since. Since 2015, he has been retained by owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid.

Atzeni’s biggest wins include the St Leger (twice) and the Vertem Trophy four years in succession in the 2010s, while his last Group One winner was Emaraaty Ana in last year’s Haydock Sprint Cup. This season, he is eighth in the British jockeys’ table with 34 winners at a 26 per cent strike-rate, the best of any rider in the top 50. However, when you are first jockey to a big owner, you are slightly reliant on them having a top horse to keep your name up in lights.

“Good horses are hard to find,” he said. “We’ve got some nice ones. There are a couple of two-year-old fillies who have won first time and could be anything. Triple Time was going for the 2,000 Guineas but went wrong and hopefully he will be back, and we’ve got Fonteyn in the Nassau on Thursday – she’s a nice filly.”

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Atzeni has a great sense of humour and, when he is occasionally the butt of weighing-room humour, it is like water off a duck’s back.

The best story about him is when Martin Dwyer, a Liverpudlian with missionary zeal, converted him into being an Everton fan, albeit only on a temporary basis.

Dwyer’s job was made marginally easier at the time because the manager, Carlo Ancelotti, was Italian, but fellow jockey Jamie Spencer always reckoned there was more chance of Atzeni winning the National Lottery than being able to name a single member of the Everton side.

One Saturday, when they were racing, Dwyer told Atzeni their side had gone 1-0 up against Crystal Palace. “Who scored?” Atzeni asked.

“Calvert-Lewin,” said Dwyer.

Atzeni then announced to the weighing room that Everton were 1-0 up. “Who scored?” asked Franny Norton, a Liverpool fan.

“Carl Llewellyn,” replied Atzeni.

When Everton scored another, Atzeni announced the fact to the weighing room. “We scored again,” he said. To which a wag in the corner piped up: “Who scored that one, Andrea? Richard Dunwoody?”

“I actually don’t like football,” admitted Atzeni yesterday. “I supported Chelsea for two weeks, Arsenal for one day, Everton for a couple of weeks.”

Tomorrow, though, his thoughts will be a million miles from football. “I don’t really feel pressure but on the day I’m sure there’ll be some nerves,” he admitted. “He’s a horse of a lifetime. Sure, it’s big but I’m happy. Chances like this don’t come along very often.”

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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