When we think today of Italian champion jockey’s we of course look at the current greats Frankie Dettori in England, Cristian Demuro in France his brother Mirco in Japan and Umberto Rispoli in the US to name but a few. However these masters of their trade owe a huge debt to the man who led the way. Over three decades a man born in the suburbs around Pisa was universally recognized as one of the Worlds greatest jockeys and whose success in a World where international travel was of a very limited variety was nothing short of phenomenal.Other Italian jockeys had international success before him but nobody showed the racing world such brilliance over a sustained period of time.
Enrico Camici was born in Barbaricina on the outskirts of Pisa on the thirty first of March 1912.Barbaricina was and is at the heart of the Italian horse racing industry where perhaps a unique passion for the sport exists.Young Enrico’s father worked in a local stable but in 1921 landed a job with the legendary owner breeder Giuseppe De Montel.Times were tough after the first World war and Italy was only slowly recovering. Education was not top priority for many families bent on mere survival.At the age of nine Enrico joined his father at De Montel’s and his formal education came to a premature close.
De Montel’s in house trainer was a certain Walter Allpher who whatever his training skills was ill qualified to employ a young boy.When he was replaced by Charles Planner things hardly improved for the youngster who nevertheless had a natural affinity and love for the horses.He was also very dedicated to his work a trait which he maintained for all of his life as a jockey and later as trainer.When the young Roman jockey Paolo Caprioli arrived as De Montel’s first jockey little Enrico had his life changing moment.The Roman was a brillaint jockey, hard working but also great fun and an extrovert who immediately took the youngster under his wing.The boy was naturally shy, the very opposite of Caprioli who was the perfect showman, Frankie’s true predecesor. Despite this the Roman was Camici’s mentor and cajoled the new De Montel trainer Willy Carter to give the kid a chance.
Camici was so dedicated to the Horses he earned the nickname ‘Il Caporalino di Barbaricina’.He would ride his first winner at fourteen years of age in 1926 in San Siro on a horse called Budrio.The following year his first Gran Premio the Ambrosiano on Francavilla.
With De Montel’s breeding knowledge and financial clout allied to Carter’s training skills, Caprioli’s horsemanship and a hard working team the stable went from strength to strength, all the Italian classic’s were won and in 1926 a colt was born that would change the mentality of Italian racing.
Ortello was a son of Teddy-Hollybeck(Gorgos) Teddy was an unusual horse for his age as he raced between France and Spain but he sired no less than sixty five stakes winners. At two Ortello won his first three starts before finishing second beaten a head in the Gran Criterium at San Siro. De Montel decided to give the huge colt (he stood 17 hands) one more race before winter in the 1400 metre (7furlongs) championship race the Premio Chiusura open to two year olds and up. This great and historic race won by some of the great champions sadly now demoted to listed status gave the sixteen year old Camici his first big chance.
Ortello with the age allowance was set to carry 50 kilos (7stone 12), Caprioli could not do the weight so Enrico got the spare ride on Ortello who duly defeated the Oaks and Gran Premio del Jockey club winner Erba. It was a sensational introduction to the Milan crowd and the top professionals could already see that Caprioli was right a new champion was in the making.In this case actually two as Ortello as a three year old carried all before him with the Roman star on board, Derby Italiano,Gran Premio Di Milano,St Leger Italiano and the Prix De L’arc de Triomphe beating the best in Europe including the 1928 winner Kantar and the German champion Oleander.
Ironically to finish off the season he was beaten into second place in the Chiusura by Cranach.The following year Camici finished third in the Frustino D’Oro the jockeys championship and a year later he would be runner up to Caprioli .In 1931 Caprioli would return to Rome to team up with Federico Regoli as number one jockey giving Enrico his big chance to shine at the highest level.Next week in part 2 of Camici’s story we will see how he gets on.