From Fair Grounds
Antioco MurgiaGlobetrotting Sardinian jockey Antioco Murgia – known as ‘Coco’ to many – was looking for his first American stakes victory Thursday afternoon when he hopped aboard multiple graded stakes winner Nates Mineshaft in the Thanksgiving Handicap at Fair Grounds Race Course. Represented by agent Rob Whitlock, Murgia has quickly gained an amiable reputation with his colleagues.

“He’s not shy and doesn’t get intimidated easily,” Whitlock explained. “He’s also an excellent cook, which is really interesting for a jockey to be when you think about it. He made a whole dinner for about 10 or so horsemen the other day.”

Murgia’s prowess extends to the racetrack as well and his reputation there is equally rich. “He’s an excellent judge of pace,” Whitlock said. “He rode for Godolphin in Europe and Dubai and is really good at listening to a horse. The other day he convinced (trainer Jeff) Engler to run (eventual winner Battle On) short instead of long and the horse won the race. That’s something you don’t see a lot of jockeys having the nerve to do.”

The 26-year-old seems to have courage in spades. As a youth, he grew up riding in the streets in the famous Palio (di Siena) races in his native Italy – an incredibly dangerous event. He went on to transfer that fortitude to being the rider of Godolphin’s Farhh – a multiple Group I-winning charge considered at the time to be that Dubai-based outfit’s best horse. Murgia only had one chance to ride him in the afternoon but did so with aplomb when guiding the son of Pivotal to a handy victory in the Thirsk Hunt Cup Handicap in May 2012. Fahhr would go on to win the Group I Champion Stakes, Group I Lockinge Stakes and twice finish second to the great Frankel.

“He really listens to horses and works with them individually,” added Anne Smith, trainer of Nates Mineshaft. Murgia and Smith have been teaming up often in the mornings with her Windy Hill Farm-owned private stable, including multiple morning exercises with Nates Mineshaft, and Murgia is also scheduled to ride Smith’s other big horse – the come-backing graded stakes-placed Whyruawesome in an allowance on Sunday afternoon.

A lover of American racing, Murgia had always wanted to come to ride in the United States and is currently fulfilling that aspiration. Riding his first race in England in 2008, Murgia has won 20 of his 232 American mounts since arriving in the United States last year and has gained the trust of trainers like Smith, Mike Stidham and Eddie Johnston, who all will be giving him a leg up Thanksgiving weekend.