Atzeni rides Circle Of Fire to G1 Sydney Cup win

Hong Kong-based Italian Andrea Atzeni has ridden imported stayer Circle Of Fire to an emotion-charged win in the Group 1 Sydney Cup, with the jockey dedicating the victory to his fallen friend Stefano Cherchi.

Cherchi died last week as a result of injuries sustained in a race fall in Canberra on March 20, and Cherchi’s family were on course at Randwick on Saturday to watch fellow countrymen Atzeni steer the Ciaron Maher-trained Circle Of Fire to victory in the time-honoured 3200m race.

Atzeni embraced Cherchi’s family after returning to scale and rode with a black armband as a mark of respect to his friend.

“It’s definitely for him,” Atzeni said.

“Everybody’s been going through a tough time, starting from his family who I’m very close to.

“I must say how amazing it is to see them here, considering it wouldn’t have been an easy decision for them to come racing today.

“But it shows how tough they are.

“I knew him quite well. We spent a lot of time together in Newmarket (in England) and I kept in touch with him very closely when he moved to Australia.”

Atzeni got the call from trainer Ciaron Maher to ride Circle Of Fire at the light weight of 51.5kg in the Sydney Cup and the former UK stayer, who started $5.50 betting app favourite, produced a brilliant performance to defeat Athabascan ($6) by two lengths with another half-length back to Tancred Stakes winner Kalapour ($12) in third.

Circle Of Fire was having his fourth Australian start and was backing up after winning the Group 2 Chairman’s Quality (2600m) at Randwick last Saturday.

Atzeni, who was riding in Sydney for the first time, said things did not go to plan during the run with Circle Of Fire forced to race without cover for much of the race.

But the four-year-old’s stamina and class shone through.

“The plan was to get into a nice rhythm with a bit of cover because he raced a bit keen last week,” Atzeni said.

“I jumped quite nicely and I tried my luck early in the race to get some cover behind something and I couldn’t so I went forward again.

“I tried to get in again and that didn’t work either. It was hard work for me.

“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.”

Maher indicated the Melbourne Cup was a long-range target for Circle Of Fire.

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