The British flat racing scene is gearing up to wave goodbye to the most famous jockey in the sport, with Frankie Dettori set to gallop into retirement at the end of the current season. However, the 52-year-old isn’t the only talented Sardinian set to depart the British racing scene, with Andrea Atzeni recently announcing that he will be upping sticks to ride in Hong Kong on a permanent basis.
Still only 32 years of age, Atzeni no doubt still has many years and big days ahead of him, but it appears that the majority of those will now come on foreign soil. Having been a retained rider for the bulk of his career – predominantly for the Roger Varian operation – Atzeni has found it challenging to pick up quality rides since going freelance last season, which may have played a part in his decision to accept the offer from the Hong Kong Jockey Club. He departs with the best wishes of the weighing room and punters alike and leaves an impressive body of work in his wake.
All told, Atzeni has racked up 1,252 winning rides in Britain, operating at a rock-solid strike rate of 14.92%. As with all riders, there are several standout successes amongst that impressive tally, and here we look back at five of his finest moments in the saddle.
5. Emaraaty Ana – 2021 Haydock Sprint Cup
As we shall see, many of Atzeni’s biggest moments came in stamina-sapping events. However, he is equally adept at judging a sprint race to perfection, as ably demonstrated in the 2021 edition of the biggest sprint event of the year at Haydock Park.
In a field containing Jersey Stakes winner Creative Force, Diamond Jubilee Stakes second and third, Glen Shiel and Art Power, and July Cup king Starman, Kevin Ryan’s Emaraaty Ana wasn’t amongst the more fancied runners heading into this Group 1 6f affair. In order to come out on top, the five-year-old was likely going to need a perfectly judged ride, and he received just that to hang on by a whisker in a pulsating finish.
4. Stradivarius – 2017 Goodwood Cup
The greatest stayer of the modern era certainly seemed to thrive with a Sardinian in the saddle. Likely to be forever associated with Frankie Dettori – who partnered the John Gosden-trained superstar to five of his seven Group 1 victories – it is easy to forget that it was Atzeni who first steered the son of Cape Cross into the winner’s enclosure at the highest level.
That success came back in 2017, when, having announced himself on the big stage with a tenacious victory in the Group 2 Queen’s Vase, Stradivarius was given his shot at Group 1 gold in the Goodwood Cup. Two-time winner of the race Big Orange was installed as the 6/4F on the day, but in the straight it soon became clear that there was a new star in the staying division. Atzeni would subsequently partner Stradivarius to a second Goodwood Cup success in 2018 and was the man aboard for the colt’s final racecourse appearance when going down narrowly to Kyprios in the 2022 edition of the race.
3. Postponed – 2015 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes
Another example of Atzeni’s excellent judge of pace came in the 2015 renewal of the biggest 1m4f event of the season at Ascot. Once again sporting the famous colours of Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, Atzeni partnered a horse who did more than most to elevate the rider into the upper echelons of the sport.
A winner at Listed and Group 2 level under Atzeni as a three-year-old, Postponed was zero from three under Adam Kirby during his four-year-old campaign, and looked to have his work cut out, stepping up to the top table for only the second time in his career. However, this time the Dubawi colt would have Atzeni back on his side. Moving into the straight, Atzeni once again kicked for home at the perfect moment, saving just enough petrol to hold off the charging Eagle Top in a thriller. Postponed and Atzeni would team up for three further Group 1 successes in the Coronation Cup, Juddmonte International, and the hugely valuable Dubai Sheema Classic out in Meydan.
2. Simple Verse – 2015 St. Leger Stakes
Whenever Atzeni struck on the big stage, he often did so by the narrowest of margins. In the world of horse racing, 10-length romps and flared nostril triumphs all count the same, and Atzeni was once again leaning towards the narrower end of that spectrum when landing the second Classic of his career in 2015.
His partner in crime in the St. Leger Stakes was the Ralph Beckett filly Simple Verse, who thrust her hat into the ring for this with a win in the Lillie Langtry Stakes at Goodwood. What followed was one of the most controversial editions in the long history of the great race. Well into the home straight, Simple Verse became involved in a barging match with market leader Bondi Beach, before eventually holding on by a head. However, that was only the start of the drama, with Simple Verse initially demoted to second, only to be reinstated as the winner at a BHA Hearing fully 11 days later.
1. Kingston Hill – 2014 St. Leger Stakes
If at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again, or so the old saying goes – a mantra which proved apt for the Roger Varian-trained Kingston Hill in 2014. A perfect three from three in his juvenile campaign – including in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy – this son of Mastercraftsman was heavily touted heading into his Classic season. Not quite having the pace for a mile when only fifth in the 2000 Guineas, he then led the field inside the final furlong of the Epsom Derby, only to be mown down by the Ballydoyle star Australia.
If Kingston Hill was going to hand trainer and jockey a first career Classic success, it was going to have to come at Doncaster in September. Despite stepping up to 1m6f for the first time, the punters were keeping the faith, seeing Kingston Hill sent off as the 9/4f on the day. In the end, that faith was well-rewarded, but only thanks to a power-packed finishing effort from Atzeni and his willing partner, to forge home down the outside in a cracker.