By Jon Lees
UAE: Antonio Fresu has described how the biggest victory of his career ended in tragedy for sprinter Zenden, who suffered a fatal breakdown moments after carrying the Italian rider to his first G1 triumph in the Dubai Golden Shaheen.
Fresu was shot out of the saddle when the US runner sustained an open fracture of his near foreleg after crossing the line as a 40-1 upset winner of the $1.5 million 6f dirt prize at Meydan on Saturday. The five-year-old entire was subsequently put down.
There was more drama to come for the jockey who was passed fit to take the mount on the fancied Military Law in the Dubai World Cup, only to be unshipped again when the horse ducked under the stalls. After running loose, he was withdrawn from the showpiece race.
Recalling the moment he won the Golden Shaheen, Fresu said: “I got really happy for a second and the next second my heart was broken to see the horse who gave me such a victory breaking down. This is the worst experience a jockey can have.
“Zenden gave me such a pleasure,” the 29-year-old added. “As soon as I got up I went to the horse and gave him a couple of pats. I had to leave – I didn’t want to see him like that. It was too hard for my eyes and too emotional.”
Zenden, a first Dubai runner for trainer Carlos David, a former assistant to Jason Servis, was coming into the race off a Listed win at Tampa Bay.
He had never won at graded level but under Fresu he managed to get across from stall 13 of 13 to make all the running and score by 3¼ lengths.
“I’d never sat on him before,” said Fresu. “I wasn’t expecting that much but they told me the horse was extremely fast, was improving in his last two races and was 110 per cent fit to go.
“Meydan is different to the US but most of the time it helps horses that go to the front. He broke so fast; I have never sat on a horse that broke so well from the stalls. After two strides I was already so clear and managed to go to the rail.
“Then I just held the horse to fill him up, take a breather on the turn and when I asked him to go he kicked on really well, managing to get three or four lengths clear. In the last 100 metres he was slowing down and I could see a couple were catching me, but they were too late.”
“The poor horse … after the wire he was changing leads to go into the turn, took a bad step and broke down. That was about 50 metres after the line. I promise you, he had been moving so well.”
Fresu, who did not attend the prize-giving ceremony, said trainer David and the owners were totally distraught. “I got to talk to them and they were devastated,” he said.
“The owners were crying like babies and the trainer as well because they never had such a good horse and it was the first G1 winner for the connections. Losing him in that way was heartbreaking.
“It wasn’t the way I want to win a race, even if it is a G1. After the race they asked me to go to the presentation but I said I didn’t want to do a presentation. It wasn’t fair for the connections. It was a great win for my career, but not the way I wanted to do it.”
Military Law was coming into the World Cup off a sixth place in the Saudi Cup and a win in Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge as third favourite.
“Military Law is such a kind, nice and relaxed horse,” said Fresu. “I ride him almost every day. They loaded him in the stalls and he was still quiet and relaxed.
“There was only one horse left to load and I think one of the American horses was messing about in the stalls. I think Military Law got really scared and he went down under the stalls and he just got loose.”
“The World Cup was a tough race but he had already beaten many of those in the race, apart from the winner,” added Fresu, who is soon to return to Italy to take up his job with trainer Endo Botti.
“Chuwa Wizard was second but he was five or six lengths behind me in Saudi so my horse had a massive chance.
“I am not saying he could beat Mystic Guide but he could have finished second because he was in extremely good form. It could have been the best day of my life but it ended up being so awful.”