HomeHorse RacingItalian jockey dedicates Sydney Cup win to fallen mate

Italian jockey dedicates Sydney Cup win to fallen mate


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Visiting jockey Andrea Atzeni kissed his hand and pointed to the sky after Circle Of Fire helped him score the most emotional of Group 1 victories at Royal Randwick on Saturday.

Atzeni honoured his great mate Stefano Cherchi when the Ciaron Maher-trained stayer took out the $2 million Sydney Cup (3200m).

Some things in sport are meant to be.

Cherchi died aged 23 earlier this month after succumbing to injuries suffered in a race fall at Canberra two weeks earlier.

His family travelled to Australia to be with him during his final days and were on track at Royal Randwick on day two of The Championships.

Cherchi’s father Sebastian let out his emotions on the owner’s lawn, looking to the sky with his wife Maria and daughter Eleonora by his side.

“It’s incredible. It’s special,” Eleonora said.

Atzeni, a fellow Italian-born hoop now based in Hong Kong, rode with an angel on his shoulder and honoured his great mate in the most fitting of ways.

“It is definitely for him,” he said.

“It has been a tough time for his family and it is amazing to see them here.

“It must be very tough for them to be here, and they are here because I came.

“It wouldn’t have been an easy decision for them to come racing today. It shows how tough they and it shows that unfortunately Stefano left us doing what he wanted to do and what he loved doing.”

Atzeni worked alongside Cherchi during their time at Newmarket and remained in contact when the latter moved to Australia.

Saturday was the third time in three weeks Atzeni had made the journey to Australia after making the trip to see his good friend.

“I came to see Stefano when he was still with us. I spent about 15 hours with him,” he said.

“I left because I was riding in Hong Kong on the Sunday and unfortunately, I got the bad news that Stefano has left us.

“You think you’re prepared for something like this but when it comes to it, you can’t prepare.”

Atzeni got the call from trainer Ciaron Maher to ride Circle Of Fire after the pair had met at the Palio di Siena in recent years.

Circle Of Fire was on the seven-day back-up after his brilliant win in last week’s Chairman’s Quality (2600m), becoming the ninth horse to complete double and first since The Offer in 2014.

Atzeni allowed Circle Of Fire to roll along under his own steam in the three-wide line before pushing forward to sit closer to the leaders down the back straight.

The son of Almanzor hit the front at the top of the straight before fighting off the challenge of the John O’Shea-trained Athabascan ($6) to score by two lengths.

The Kris Lees-trained Kalapour ($6) to run half a length away in third.

“He did it the hard way so I didn’t know if he had a lot left in the tank,” Atzeni said.

“To be fair to the horse, he dug deep when the second horse came to him and the further he went the better he was.”

It was Maher’s third Sydney Cup after winning the race last year while still in partnership David Eustace with Explosive Jack as well as in 2020 with Etah James.

“It is unbelievable,” Maher said.

“Fitting this week as Andrea was such good mates with Stefano.

“The horse, he was unbelievable. Andrea, he had to be confident and that was unbelievable.

“I can’t thank my team, the owners, enough.

“They’ve done a great job to get a horse in this condition to do it seven days apart. It’s some effort.”

Athabascan’s jockey Tyler Schiller thought he was going to be celebrating another Group 1.

“I got to him and thought I had him,” he said.

“He was stronger at the end of two miles. Can’t knock Athabascan.”

Originally published as The Championships Day 2: Italian jockey Andrea Atzeni dedicates Group 1 Sydney Cup win to late friend Stefano Cherchi

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