Marco Ghiani was all smiles as he was awarded the 2021 champion apprentice title on the day the Flat season was formally brought to a close at Ascot.
The Newmarket-based rider has accumulated 51 winners throughout his title campaign, which began on May 1 and included any Flat winners ridden on the turf or all-weather in Britain.
Ghiani earns the accolade after finishing 16 wins clear of Saffie Osborne, who missed the end of the season due to an arm injury.
He was presented with his trophy by the legendary Lester Piggott, and said: “It’s really nice to be crowned champion apprentice. It’s a dream come true and I’m really thankful to all the people that have helped me along this journey.
“I’ll be smiling forever now!”
It has certainly been a memorable campaign for the Italian, who as well as riding out his claim secured a first winner at Royal Ascot aboard the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Real World in the Hunt Cup.
Ghiani went on the steer the same horse to Listed and Group Two success at Newbury and York respectively, while he also enjoyed a Saturday afternoon treble on Newmarket’s July Course during the summer.
“I was just about to lose my claim when I rode my first Royal Ascot winner. It was just amazing,” said the rider, who was afforded a guard of honour by his weighing-room colleagues on British Champions Day.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was a fantastic feeling – I didn’t want to get off the horse afterwards!”
Ghiani is not from a racing background, with his parents the owners of a pizza restaurant in his homeland.
But it did not take the 22-year-old long to realise he instead wanted follow in the footsteps of compatriots Frankie Dettori and Andrea Atzeni by pursuing a career as a jockey, having first sat on a racehorse at the age of 15.
“My family have a restaurant. None of them have been with horses, apart from my grandfather’s grandfather. We found out last week that he used to ride horses,” Ghiani continued.
“I started working in the restaurant when I was about 10 years old. When I was 15 I didn’t want to go to school any more, so my father put me in the restaurant to teach me how to make pizzas.
“I thought the pizzas were too hot, so my father wanted me to do something else and made me leave!”
Despite suffering a fall in the Sartiglia horse festival in Sardinia, Ghiani impressed multiple champion jockey Dario Vargiu, who contacted him and encouraged him to follow his racing dream.
While barely able to speak English at the time, he took the brave decision to leave home and enrolled at the British Racing School at 16 and joined Luca Cumani’s stable in Newmarket.
Ghiani admits he had serious doubts about whether he would make it as a jockey, but was persuaded by fellow Italian Cumani to stick it out.
He said: “I couldn’t speak very much English so it was difficult to communicate. All I could say is ‘my name is Marco’.
“Obviously I missed my friends and my family. Lots of people were saying I wasn’t good and I got a bit sad and started believing it.
“I just wanted to go home, but Luca told me to stay and after a few months I got my licence and it went well.
“The British Racing School has definitely played a big part. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
After Cumani retired in October 2018, Ghiani rode out for another Newmarket trainer Stuart Williams, who along with jockey coach Michael Hills, he credits for much of his success.
Well-known for his infectious smile, Ghiani plans to return to Italy for a short break during the winter before returning to Britain to ride on the all-weather.
He added: “I just want to ride as many winners as I can and maybe ride a few horses for big trainers.
“I don’t see the point in being sad for no reason.
“There are some bad days, but there are also lots of good days, so I just keep the chin up and keep the smile up as well.”