9th - 12th Sep

Andrea Atzeni

Italian jockey Andrea Atzeni is planning to extend his love affair with Doncaster this week with a strong book of rides at the St Leger Festival, including May Hill Stakes favourite Zabeel Queen. Interview: Simon Mapletoft.

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By Simon Mapletoft

Few jockeys have enjoyed as much success at Doncaster’s flagship fixtures than Italian ace Andrea Atzeni, who has his eye on another Group victory with ZABEEL QUEEN.

Atzeni, who has won four Racing Post Trophies, two St Legers and a Doncaster Cup, put the daughter of the great Frankel though her final paces in Newmarket on Monday morning and can’t wait for Thursday’s Group 2 – a traditional pointer to the 1,000 Guineas.

Watch every race of the Pertemps St Leger Festival 2020 live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) from Wednesday 9th to Saturday 12th September.

“We’ve always thought a lot of her and regarded her as a potential Guineas filly ever since her debut win at Ascot,” reveals the Sardinian ace, who celebrated his 1,000th domestic winner recently.

“I put her through her paces and was very happy with the feel she gave me. She’d done her serious work already so it was only routine work but she’s clearly come on significantly for her win at Ascot and is an exciting filly.”

Zabeel Queen made a big impression in a fillies’ novice race at the end of July, travelling sweetly before finishing off the 7f strongly and heads to Doncaster instead of taking up an engagement in Sunday’s Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes.

“I think she will really appreciate the step up to a mile and will hopefully prove herself a genuine classic prospect for the boss, which would be nice as he bred her,” adds Atzeni.

The 29-year-old also has high hopes for Richard Hannon’s CLOAK OF SPIRITS and the Kevin Ryan-trained CAIRN ISLAND, who also run in the famous yellow silks of Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum.

Cloak Of Spirits re-appears in the Group 3 bet365 Sceptre Stakes on the opening day of the festival and Atzeni believes she is in the perfect race. “I think the drop back to 7f on a big galloping track will really suit her,” he adds.

“She’s been highly tried this year but showed what a classy filly she is when she finished second to Love in the Guineas. We were beaten just over four lengths but that looks pretty good form now.

“I though her run in the Group 3 at Epsom (Princess Elizabeth Stakes) and another Group 3 in Deauville last month were solid enough efforts. She went to win her race in heavy ground in France but just got run out of it over a mile.”

Atzeni finished a close second on Sheikh Obaid’s Repartee in last season’s sales race at Doncaster but has high hopes of atoning for that defeat with Cairn Island, who comes into Thursday’s cavalry charge on a serious roll.

“He’s very tough, as you’d expect of a Kevin Ryan horse,” adds Atzeni, who won the race in 2017 with Laugh A Minute. “He’s also a very straightforward horse who we’ve always held in high regard. He progressed an awful lot from his win at Ayr to take that big nursery at York last time and travelled right to the line that day.

“The handicapper raised him 10lb for that, to a mark of 90, but I believe he’s open to a lot more improvement. He’s fairly well treated at the weights off that new mark so he’s one I’m really looking forward to.”

Atzeni must sit out Friday’s action to serve a one-day suspension, which has probably cost him the ride on Doncaster Cup favourite Nayef Road, but will be back in action on Saturday with at least two strong chances.

Among them is Roger Varian’s SAINT LAWRENCE, who looks worth his chance in the Group 2 bet365 Champagne Stakes. “He’s a very good looking horse who is improving with experience and has the right attitude.

“When he won his Listed race at Newbury, the race they used to call the Washington Singer, he made every yard of the running, taking on some good horses. Having said that, I wouldn’t be worried about dropping him in as he does have a very smart turn of foot,” he adds.

Ed Walker has booked Atzeni for the ever-reliableMOUNTAIN PEAK in the bet365 Portland Handicap – a horse he knows well having won on him at Haydock in June. “He’s best on top of the ground so I hope the forecast for decent weather is right and conditions dry out,” he adds.

“William Buick was on him when he won again at Haydock last time and although he’s gone up another 4lb for that I can’t see any reason why he won’t remain very competitive. When I won on him I jumped out and sat handy so I’ll be aiming to get a nice tow into the race again in the Portland.”

The Newmarket-based jockey is also looking forward to riding improving two-year-old ACKLAM EXPRESS in the Listed Scarbrough Stakes on Day One. Nigel Tinkler’s York winner is up against older opposition but Atzeni rates his chances.

“He’s getting a lot of weight from the others and will like the slight ease in the ground. I was impressed by the way he won at York so hopefully we will prove hard to peg back off such a light weight.”

He is also bullish about Jedd O’Keeffe’s progressive young handicapperSTRAIT OF HORMUZ over 1m2f on the opening day. “It will be the first time I’ve ridden him but my agent was keen to get me on him. I’m trusting his judgement because I’m doing 8st 4lb to ride him, which is very light for me.”

Atzeni also has claims in the Carrie Red fillies’ nursery on Thursday on Varian’sNAZUNA – a juvenile he is keen to get a good tune out of as she is owned by the boss’s wife! “Jack Mitchell won on her at Doncaster last time and though she showed a good attitude. She drops back in trip slightly but looks potentially nicely treated off an opening mark of 80,” he insists.

The prospect of riding in front of a British crowd at Doncaster for the first time in six months is something Atzeni welcomes. “I know the numbers are going to be limited due to the pandemic but it’s a step in the right direction for racing to get back to normal. It will be nice to have an atmosphere at one of the biggest festivals of the season.”

Atzeni hopes the biggest cheers will be for him and, given his prowess on Town Moor in recent years, plenty of racing enthusiasts lucky enough to get a ticket at Doncaster will feel he’s a pretty safe bet.

Andrea Atzeni

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