Author: Howard Wright
TRY THIS FOR A turf trivia question: name the second Champion Jockey in Britain to have made the journey from his native Sardinia to Newmarket as a teenager? The first, of course, was Frankie Dettori, who was leading apprentice in 1989, at the age of 18, and then top senior rider in 1994, 1995 and 2004.
The next will make himself known to racing fans in Dubai very shortly. The answer to the quiz question is Marco Ghiani, Champion Apprentice in Britain last year, the first Italian to hold the title since Dettori and reported to be heading to Meydan principally to ride the 3yo J J Jumbo for owner Sultan Saeed Mohammed Harib Alfahali and his Irish trainer Darren Bunyan.
The original news of Ghiani’s expected debut in the UAE came via the Dubai Racing Club’s burgeoning Twitter account, which also covered J J Jumbo’s initial experience of Meydan last Saturday, when he stretched his legs for work rider Gillian Dawson on his first public appearance since leaving quarantine.
Dawson is no stranger to Meydan, for she did the legwork that enabled Hit The Bid to win for Bunyan at the Dubai World Cup Carnival in 2018. J J Jumbo has further progress to make before he can be talked about in the same terms as his former stablemate, for he remains a maiden after four outings, in the first three of which he started at long odds before going off at 5/1 and being beaten a head on the artificial surface of Dundalk.
One thing J J Jumbo will not lack is attention, with social media already whirring away with pictures of his journey from Ireland to the international barn at Meydan. His owner, using the identification @shamardalteam and identifying himself as Sultan Harib Racing, has almost 4,500 followers on Twitter and can expect to gain more if, as expected, he continues to chronicle his youngster’s progress.
As for Ghiani, the similarities with his illustrious fellow Sardinian do not begin and end with geography. Just like Dettori did 35 years earlier, Ghiani left home at the age of 16 with little command of the English language to start his apprenticeship with Luca Cumani in Newmarket.
Just like Dettori, it took Ghiani three seasons after his first winner to become Champion Apprentice. But there, according to Ghiani, the comparisons end, that’s if he sticks to his comments in a midsummer interview with the Racing Post.
“There is one Frankie Dettori and there is one Marco Ghiani,” he told the newspaper. “You can’t compare yourself to somebody else because we’re all different.” Ghiani went on: “You can say you’re as good as someone, but you have to have your own identity and style.
I am just myself, I don’t want to be anybody else. If you want to live the life of somebody else, you won’t live yours.” His own identity and style have developed quickly, helped by the careful guidance of Cumani, who encouraged Ghiani to persevere when homesickness said it might have been easier to catch the next plane home, just as he did with Dettori.
When Cumani retired, Ghiani switched his apprenticeship to fellow Newmarket trainer Stuart Williams, and with the help of his agent, former jockey Sashi Righton, the winning foundation was set. Ghiani was actually a champion three times over in 2021: Champion Apprentice in the winter all-weather season, Champion Apprentice under the arbitrary conditions of the British Champions Series season, and Champion Apprentice on the much more reflective calendar year basis, with 101 winners from 590 rides, the most since Jason Watson struck with 111 from 717 in 2018.