Sardinian star Atzeni earns late shot at Trophy five-timer
Plenty in Yorkshire think that it should be an independent English monarchy: if they are looking for a new 'King of the North', they might do worse than a brilliant jockey from Sardinia.
Andrea Atzeni, the 26-year-old Italian, has won Doncaster's Racing Post Trophy for the past four years. You have to go back to the early 19th century to find a jockey scoring five in a row in a major race such as this famous old Group One.
Atzeni has won the Racing Post Trophy for four different trainers: on Kingston Hill for Roger Varian in 2013, then Elm Park for Andrew Balding, Marcel for Peter Chapple-Hyam and Rivet for William Haggas. But early this week it had looked as if he might not get a tilt at his five-timer.
"It didn't have a ride until Monday," he said. "But my agent got me on Chilean. I'm delighted. It feels different, going to a course knowing you've won a big race there four times, but I will prepare the same. Walk the track, into the jockeys' room, sauna and steam."
At just 8st 7lb, he is left sweating on his weight less than others. "I just had to get my passport sorted this morning: 156cm, or five foot and something."
The larger part of the partnership tomorrow, Chilean, has run three times: winning over a mile on the all-weather at Chelmsford and then on heavy ground at Haydock last time out over the same distance, staying on well to land a Listed race. Clearly, a Group One represents a big step up in class, and "Aidan O'Brien will have a say", as Atzeni puts it of the Ballydoyle cavalry charge. At the very least, trainer Martyn Meade has a man who can win this race.
He follows in the footsteps, of course, of another Sardinian: racing's biggest star, and Italy's most popular export to the UK outside pizza, Frankie Dettori.
Unlike Dettori, Atzeni was not born into racing. His father was a farmer and his mother a nurse. He began begging the old man for a pony at the age of six: Signor Atzeni held out on the lad until he was 10.
He arrived in the UK as a teenager with not a word of English, which is now impeccable, and a ready-made mentor.
"Frankie has been good to me," he said. "We have become very close the last three or four years, he always gives me advice, tips, help. It's fun to race against him."
He is not a born extrovert like Dettori, but is noted on the circuit for his snappy dressing and has settled happily in England. "The only problem is getting the designer clothes in my size," he lamented. "But I love to spend my money on clothes."
He got a chance to experience one of the least pleasant aspects of the English character this year when some oaf chucked a pint of beer at him as he was cantering up to the start at Royal Ascot for the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes.
"It's out of order," he said. "I wanted to go back but I couldn't see who did it."
They make them small but tough in Sardinia. If there is any booze being chucked around at Atzeni this weekend, it will surely be of the bubbly kind. (© Daily Telegraph, London)