Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe: Andrea Atzeni ready for 'biggest ride' of career

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent
Andrea Atzeni
Andrea Atzeni celebrates winning the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Postponed at Ascot

As he prepares to get the leg-up on Postponed, the British-trained favourite for flat racing's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, jockey Andrea Atzeni has no doubts about the significance of Sunday's race for him.

"It is the biggest ride I've had," says the 25-year-old Italian. "It is a dream really, unbelievable when you think three or four years ago I was trying to get a living out of the game, and now I'm on the favourite for the Arc.

"It's what every jockey wants and dreams about and I'm very lucky to be in that position now."

Like childhood hero Frankie Dettori, Atzeni is from the island of Sardinia; and, like Dettori, the farmer's son arrived to work in British flat racing's HQ at Newmarket as a teenage stable lad speaking barely a word of English.

After making an effort to mix more with English as well as Italian friends, he gradually picked up the language and, at the same time, saw his talents as an apprentice jockey being recognised, a change he puts down to improved communication skills with trainers.

A formalised association with Postponed's trainer Roger Varian in 2013 saw the pair enjoy almost immediate top-level success with the colt Kingston Hill, who went on to land the following year's St Leger before finishing a fine fourth in the Arc a few weeks later.

Postponed, previously trained by Atzeni's compatriot Luca Cumani before being moved - along with his 30-plus other horses - to Varian by owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid, will be Atzeni's third mount in the Arc, flat racing's great mile-and-a-half, pan-European autumn championship, this year worth five million euros.

He and the five-year-old are unbeaten in their past six races, a run that includes success in some of the sport's most prestigious Group One prizes, including the 2015 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. This year - each time in brilliant style - there have been victories in Dubai's Sheema Classic, the Coronation Cup at Epsom and the International Stakes at York. Top-notch form indeed.

Andrea Atzeni
Andrea Atzeni rides Postponed to victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Cup

Atzeni, who describes himself as "very confident" before the big race, being staged this year and next at Chantilly as regular home Longchamp is redeveloped,external-link believes riding Postponed is akin to driving a Ferrari against other vehicles.

And were the horse's characteristics transferred into a human, he is certain they would produce a "perfect gentleman".

Atzeni told BBC Sport: "He's a complete athlete. He's got a physique, he's a very good-looking horse, very strong. And fast ground or soft ground, flat track or [up and down] Epsom, left-handed or right-handed, mile and a quarter or mile and a half, he's very straightforward.

"He's got a very good mind, and when I get on him I think he knows and he grows about three inches as he gets into race mode and knows he's got to get the job done.

"If he could speak, he'd be probably one of the nicest people you'd ever meet in your life. When you meet a nice man, that's Postponed, I promise you. A cool horse, nothing bothers him."

Chantilly racecourse
This year's Arc will be run on 2 October at Chantilly, as regular home Longchamp is redeveloped

And, apart from seeing off the remnants of flu, not has much been bothering his jockey in the days leading up to Chantilly. "I haven't just been thinking about the Arc all the time, there's been Bath and Salisbury this week too," he says, though he admits agent Paul Clarke has been "very picky" about the mounts he has selected in the build-up.

Atzeni and Postponed face opponents including just one other British challenger, The Grey Gatsby, the mount of James Doyle.

Also due to line up are Epsom and Irish Derby winner Harzand; the filly Found, successful in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf race, who leads a three-horse charge for trainer Aidan O'Brien; last year's third New Bay; and the latest challenger from Japan, the Yasuo Tomomichi-trained Makahiki.

Japanese raiders at the now Qatar-sponsored Arc have famously endured a string of near misses, filling the runners-up spot on four occasions - with El Condor Pasa (1999), Nakayama Festa (2010) and Orfevre (2012 and 2013). Can they manage success at last?

France-born, Japan-based jockey Christophe Lemaire, who takes the ride on the three-year-old winner of the often significant Prix Niel Arc trial race, has been positively brimming with enthusiasm that the colt has improved significantly since that narrow success.

But, after considering his rivals, Atzeni offers this assessment: "It's an Arc, and there are a lot of good horses, but I'm going in thinking I'm on the best horse in the race and I'm the one they've got to beat."

Whatever happens, he'll be celebrating - from Chantilly, he flies direct to Sardinia for a cousin's wedding.

"It'll be a good party anyway - let's hope it'll be extra good because of Postponed."

Christophe-Patrice Lemaire
Christophe Lemaire rides his Japanese horse Makahiki