By Geoffrey Riddle at Goodwood
Racegoers on the opening day of the Qatar Goodwood Festival were expecting an historic hat-trick but it was Andrea Atzeni on Stradivarius, and not Big Orange, who obliged in the Qatar Goodwood Cup on Tuesday.
Atzeni extracted a beautiful tune out of the Queen’s Vase winner, who provided him with the third leg of a 8,343-1 four-timer with a game one and three quarter-length success over crowd favourite Big Orange.
For good measure, he added a fourth success in the handicap that closed the card and as a conseqence is the clear leader in the Racing UK top jockey award.
The Italian jockey had already won the Qatar Vintage Stakes aboard the exciting Expert Eye, who is now the 6-1 favourite for next season’s Qipco 2,000 Guineas, and triggered a huge upset in the Qatar Lennox Stakes on top of the 50-1 Breton Rock.
Atzeni had been only a bit-part player in the lengthy stewards' enquiry that resulted in The Queen’s Fabricate being awarded victory from Dark Red and Oisin Murphy in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap, the opening race of the day. Having taken centre stage, however, he felt he probably should have ended the day with a five-timer.
"Winning races is all about confidence, and in the first race you are trying to do well and it didn’t quite work out for me,” Atzeni said.
If Atzeni struggled with the rough and ready nature of the opening race of the week, he must have thumbed through his playbook before the second race because he showcased all of his considerable talents over the next hour and a half.
You could see Atzeni playing the waiting game aboard Expert Eye, and when he sensed his rivals were all hands at the pump in the Vintage Stakes he sent the son of sprinter Acclamation to the front to justify 7-4 favouritism by four and half lengths from Zaman.
He had to be even more patient in the Lennox Stakes, when Home Of The Brave and Limato produced a fast pace on the good to soft going. Turning for home Breton Rock was last, but Atzeni angled him wide and they passed all 12 of their rivals to prevail by half a length.
It was in the feature, however, that he earned his fee when he kept Stradivarius away from the grizzled warrior that is Big Orange, who was seeking to become the first horse to win three successive renewals of the race.
Fab foursome: but Atzeni left Goodwood believing he should have had five winners
Frankie Dettori had set the fractions on this season’s Henry II Stakes and Gold Cup winner and had moved the 6-4 favourite in to the middle of the track. Atzeni snuck up the far rail, and before Big Orange knew what was happening it was all over.
Much as we learnt with Enable in the King George on Saturday, ultimately the concession of 13lb to a talented three-year-old was too much.
“He’s still a little bit immature and is a bit raw,” Atzeni said. “He doesn’t know he is a racehorse yet. It was the main plan, not to get near him. You can’t get near him – he is a fighter, you have to challenge away from him.
“Going in to the two I knew we had him because he wasn’t going away from us. Frankie was probably looking for the best ground by coming up the middle but we got a dream run up the rail.
“Stadivarius is a horse that is on the up and getting better with racing. He could be anything.”
Stradivarius is a best-price 5-1 favourite behind Aidan O’Brien’s Irish Derby winner Capri for the St Leger in September and Gosden stated the son of Sea The Stars would head straight to Doncaster.
For the past three seasons Atzeni has broken the £3million-barrier in terms of prize money accumulated, and it is horses such as Stradivarius who he will need to keep onside of he is to continue that sequence.
Atzeni is retained by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid, who has all his horses with Roger Varian, but his winners were from some of Newmarket’s finest.
Expert Eye was his third winner for Sir Michael Stoute from 12 rides this campaign. Stradivarius was also his third for Gosden from 18 rides. This year he has ridden for Richard Hannon, William Haggas, Charlie Hills, Luca Cumani, Roger Charlton and Mark Johnston, to name a few.
Atzeni only rode Expert Eye because Ryan Moore partnered Coolmore’s Seahenge, but it is clear he is fast becoming the go-to man.
“I’m very lucky to work for good people, especially Roger and Sheikh Mohammed Obaid,” he said. “When I’m not riding for them I’m fortunate to ride for people like Sir Michael and John.”