THE first Classics of the season have arrived with the Qipco 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas taking place in Newmarket over the weekend.
One man seeking a slice of glory on the biggest stage is jockey Andrea Atzeni, who partners last year’s brilliant Vintage Stakes winner Expert Eye for Sir Michael Stoute.
We spoke to Atzeni about his chances of landing the Guineas, his thoughts on some of his other Saturday rides and get the latest on a dark horse for the season.
You ride Expert Eye in the 2,000 Guineas. How are things with him building up to the race?
I sat on him on Sunday when he did his last piece of work which was good. He worked well and we were really happy with him. The Greenham has brought him on a lot as he needed the run a lot, so he’s spot on and ready to go again.
So connections were not too disheartened by his defeat in the Greenham Stakes then?
Night Of Thunder got beat in the Greenham and he went on to win the 2,000 Guineas. I spoke to Ryan Moore and Sir Michael Stoute and they both felt he really needed the race that day. I thought he ran a nice race and the key thing was to get him to relax. It was a bit of a funny race and the ground was dead, so it wasn’t ideal for him. He’s better on better ground.
What sort of impression did he give you when you rode him as a two-year-old?
When I won on him at Goodwood he felt like one of the best horses I’ve ever sat on. When I let him down he picked up like a proper horse and I thought I was sitting on something really special. He then missed Ireland and he was too fresh and upset in the stall in the Dewhurst. It was a day when everything went wrong.
What do you make of the 2,000 Guineas in general this year?
I think it’s an open race. I’m a big fan of Saxon Warrior, and while he may be more of a Derby horse than a Guineas horse, I think he could be the classiest horse in the race. He impressed me in the Racing Post Trophy and he’s going to be tough to beat. Masar was good in the Craven too.
Defoe is also in action on Saturday in the Jockey Club Stakes. How are things with him?
He wasn’t initially in the race but he’s been so well at home – he nearly dropped the rider the other day – that trainer Roger Varian decided to supplement him. He could go for the Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland after this race and hopefully this will be a nice, easy day out for him before that.
What did you make of his comeback win in the John Porter Stakes at Newbury?
I thought he was deeply impressive. He seems to have improved from last year and he wasn’t himself in the St Leger last year. He’s looking strong, will have come on for his return and he’s a horse who can go for a lot of nice races this year.
Sharja Bridge contests the opening race on Saturday. What chances of him getting you off to a flyer at the meeting?
He’s a horse we’ve always liked and he was given a stiff handicap mark after he won his maiden. That made life difficult for him as he was inexperienced but he’s training well now and he’s a lovely horse. I think he’ll get better as the year goes on.
And, finally, how are things with the Willie John, who joined the yard for a lot of money in February?
I’ve had a lot to do with him and I’ve ridden him most mornings. He’s very genuine and we’d been very happy with him, but he just picked up a little niggle so we’re take our time with him instead of rushing to the Guineas. He should be back by midsummer and he’s been very impressive in his one start to date. He’s got a good attitude and his work has been pretty good. He could be anything still.