Antonio Verdicchio from the Tuscan seaside town of Livorno was a good professional jockey over three decades beginning in 1954 .He rode over 900 winners including the Gran Criterium Italy’s premier two year old race. After retiring from the saddle he enjoyed even better success as a trainer turning out over 1000 winners.The Livorno native’s proudest moment came in 1984 in Rome when he trained the winner of the Group 1 Premio Regina Elena(Italian 1000 guineas).Antonio was blessed with three daughters Monica,Deborah and Nicoletta the middle one of whom was the mother of Niccola Pinna a fine young jockey with many big wins under his belt including the Oaks D’Iitalia and a group 1 in Japan.
At the time Antonio was starting out as a jockey in Italy Joe O Regan was training and breeding horses in Kilmallock Co.Limerick.Joe trained ESB before he went to Fred Rimell and won the famous Grand National in which Devon Loch collapsed.He bred the winner of the Scottish Grand National and among other flat horses the dam of Busted Sans Le Sou.Interestingly Busted was of course by Crepello a son of one of Federico Tesio’s great’s Donatello.However Joe’s greatest achievement on the flat was to breed a filly called Honey who won the Premio Regina Elena then group 1 with Willy Carson in the saddle in 1984.
In 1984 communications were not as good as now so Joe and Antonio not only never met up to discuss the great filly who went on to win the Premio Cumani named after Luca’s parents but never even spoke by telephone.Antonio was a friend of Gianfranco Dettori and “Il Mostro” as the Sardinian was known asked him to take on his young son who was very wild, and see if he could make something of him.Antonio became a kind of Godfather to the kid and he spent six months with him before he went to Newmarket to Luca Cumani.Frankie obviously learned a lot from the wise old Tuscan who he admits knocked the edges off the spoilt city kid.Verdicchio was obviously a wonderful mentor as Riccardo Santini now the trainer to Dormello Olgiata the Italian royalty of the turf with the colours made famous by Nearco,Botticelli and Ribot also started out with him in Livorno.Sadly last year Verdicchio went to his eternal reward a decade after Joe O Regan passed away in Kilmallock.
Before Antonio passed away he saw his Grandson win a listed race in San Siro the Premio Vittorio Crespi on a very quick filly named Wakanaka trained by Frankie Dettori’s cousin Diego.He would have been thrilled as Niccola Pinna was very close to the old man.Wakanaka(Power-Storyline(Kodiac) went on to win the Premio Alessandro Perrone and the Criterium Nazionale both listed and a four from six record.Indeed Wakanaka would have been unbeaten but for coming up against the brilliant Aria Importante on two occasions.Dettori’s filly ended the year on an official 101 rating the third best filly in the country.
What Antonio or indeed Niccola didn’t know was that Diego Dettori had bought Wakanaka from a Limerick lady Jean Brennan.Jean happens to be Joe O Regan’s daughter and is keeping the proud tradition going in Kilmallock.Brennan like her Dad is no stranger to breeding Group 1 winners having bred Artan(Be My Native-Cambridge Lodge)one of the top ten furlong horses in Europe in 1997 and 98.He won the Premio Presidente de la Repubblica(G1)in 97 and was beaten a nose in the also G1 Grosser Preis Zuchtrennen the following year.
Jean is also the breeder of the remarkable Swift Approval(Approve-Tiltili) a winner in Scotland,England,France,Italy and Germany where he won at listed level.Tiltili has been a great success for Brennan producing six different winners.
Diego Dettori believes Wakanaka deserves a crack at the Regina Elena and intends to run her in one of the traditional trials over a mile.Wakanaka has shown so much speed it will need all her sire’s influence in what look’s like a well above average year.But this sport is all about dream’s and who is to say the Grandson of Antonio will not bring home the filly bred by the daughter of Joe in what would surely be one of racing’s great stories.
As we are finalising this piece Wakanaka has just ran in the Premio Cesare Degli Occhi over the San Siro mile and she was nothing short of sensational.She gave five pounds and up to a good field and won six and a half lengths from the promising Alduino Botti filly Lonely Night(Pride of Dubai)bred by Yeomanstown stud.There is no doubt that even in an exceptional year of Italian three year old fillies Wakanaka will all going well be a serious candidate to repeat Honey’s famous victory all those years ago.