Youngster Barzalona ready to ride with the big boys
French phenomenon Mickael Barzalona has been sent on a mission by boss Andre Fabre to further forge his prodigious talent in the competitive fire of Hong Kong racing.
At the tender age of 20, the baby-faced jockey has already been anointed as a future star by the legendary French trainer, under whom he served his apprenticeship.
It is at his mentor's insistence that Barzalona finds himself on a one-month contract in Hong Kong, which begins with six rides at Sha Tin tomorrow.
In just four seasons, Barzalona has already built a reputation as a big-race rider - counting three Group Ones among 85 victories in England, France and the UAE.
Fabre believes knocking elbows and testing his nerve against hardened veterans like Douglas Whyte, Brett Prebble and Darren Beadman can help Barzalona continue his development and achieve his simple career goal - 'to be the best'.
Barzalona's guest stint comes after his good friend and fellow French wunderkind Maxime Guyon's successful tenure last season.
'I spoke about Hong Kong with Mr Fabre and he said if I had the choice, I have to come to Hong Kong,' Barzalona said through an interpreter yesterday.
'I've heard many good things about Hong Kong racing. It is an international platform of horse racing. That's why I want to prove my own form and talent here.'
Barzalona announced his arrival not only as a star, but as a natural showman, in this year's Epsom Derby aboard Pour Moi. As if the Fabre-trained colt's last-to-first dash wasn't dramatic enough, Barzalona capped it off with typical French flair.
The then teenager stood bolt upright in the irons in celebration before he crossed the line, despite the winning margin being barely decipherable to the naked eye.
Stewards took a dim view of his youthful exuberance, but he escaped a fine. You can be sure the Hong Kong Jockey Club panel will be dishing out something more substantial than stern words of warning, should he try something similar at Sha Tin.
'We spoke about that and we'd love to see that - after the race,' laughed HKJC chief steward Kim Kelly yesterday.
It wasn't long ago Barzalona listed Christophe Soumillon, Oliver Peslier and Frankie Dettori as heroes, but he has quickly joined them among Europe's elite riders. As a 16-year-old, he was hand-picked out of acclaimed Chantilly apprentice school Afasec to join the 19-time French premiership-winning Fabre. The grandson of a Corsica trainer and nephew of a jockey,
Barzalona is a natural lightweight and his ability to ride as low as 115 pounds will see him attract plenty of opportunities.
He arrives in good form, having ridden German Hong Kong Cup entrant Zazou to victory in the recent Group One Premio Roma in Italy. Barzalona won't ride the German horse on International Day, but will link with the Sean Woods-trained King Dancer in the same race.