DUBAI: Since he moved to California last year, Italian jockey Umberto Rispoli could well be said to be living the American dream, as one success after another has followed.
Now he has set his sights on the biggest prize of all, The Saudi Cup
“It would be a dream come true to win The Saudi Cup,” said Rispoli.
“I would be the happiest person in the world if I could win the race. This will be my first time in Saudi, but the track is supposed to be very good. It’s very exciting to both be riding over there and to be involved in the biggest race.”
The 32-year-old moved to the US 14 months ago having enjoyed a fruitful spell in Hong Kong and now he is preparing for some choice rides at The Saudi Cup meeting.
His first year in the states yielded more than $7 million in prize money and he currently lies second in Santa Anita’s jockey standings after a sparkling start to 2021.
The only thing missing is a grade 1 win to add to his top-level prizes collected in Italy, France, Japan and Hong Kong.
He will attempt to add The Saudi Cup to his international haul of racing trophies when he rides Max Player in the world’s most valuable race.
It will be his first ride for American Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and he is looking forward to partnering the four-year-old, fifth in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year, in the meeting’s glittering $20million feature run over 1800m on Feb. 20.
“I was so excited when I received the call. When I heard which horse I would be riding and for which trainer, I was like ‘oh my goodness,” Rispoli said.
“Max Player has run in some tough races, he always comes late. He looks like he needs a little something extra but he’s getting more experienced.
Asmussen has also booked Rispoli to ride Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint runner-up Cowan in the $1.5million Saudi Derby, run on the dirt track over 1600m on the same day as The Saudi Cup.
“I saw him at the Breeders’ Cup and he ran a huge race,” Rispoli said.
“I got the impression you could go longer with him and he switches from the grass to the dirt. He was second on his first start back after the Breeders’ Cup and he looks in fantastic order.”
“He is the highest rated horse in the race and he might have a better chance than Max Player, but I have 100 per cent confidence in both of them,” he added.
It would be fitting for Rispoli to grab a winner at The Saudi Cup meeting having impressed in some of the world’s top races.
He was twice champion jockey in Italy before enjoying plenty of success when based in France and then in the ultra-competitive racing scene in Hong Kong.
His move across the Pacific has been a roaring success and he just missed out on the jockeys’ title at Del Mar’s summer meet to Flavien Prat by a single winner.
“Since I landed here it feels like home. It’s a new challenge and a new chapter for me. If anybody would have told me it would go this way, I wouldn’t have believed them,” Rispoli said.
“I’ve had great support from nice people and nice owners. The lifestyle is fantastic and since I’ve been riding here, I’ve been doing well. The numbers last year were unbelievable, some of the best of my career.
“I learned a lot in Hong Kong, you need a strong personality to succeed, but my time there was done,” he added. “I am ambitious and one day I want to win an Eclipse Award. To do that I may have to move to the East Coast one day.”
Rispoli is clearly loving life in California but he does admit that racing in the state is going through a tricky period with a crackdown affecting trainers and jockeys.
“In California things are very difficult at the moment,” he said.
“The trainers have a lot of restrictions for Lasix and the jockeys have whip restrictions. It’s tough and I hope this isn’t going to push the riders away. The fines are very high and you get banned quite easily so you end up missing a week.”