03/28/2011 2:33PM

World Cup-winning jockey a globetrotting success

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Andrew Watkins
Victoire Pisa, with Mirco Demuro up, wins the Dubai World Cup.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Long before he won the 2008 Japan Cup on Screen Hero or this past Saturday’s $10 million Dubai World Cup on Victoire Pisa, jockey Mirco Demuro spent part of the summer of 2001 riding at Del Mar, trying to achieve a career goal.

“He hardly spoke any English,” said jockey agent Brian Beach, who represented Demuro, now 32, that summer. “We won two races from four mounts at Del Mar, one for [Richard] Mandella and one for Wesley Ward. All he wanted to do was win a couple of races in America. He told me to keep the check.

“I was happy for him the other day.”

At the time, Demuro had yet to establish a reputation as a leading rider. He went on to become champion jockey in Italy, he has won several major stakes in Japan, including the $4.2 million Arima Kinen on Victoire Pisa last December and the $1.4 million Nakayama Kinen on the same horse on Feb. 27.

In early 2002, Demuro was back in California, working in the mornings for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella and riding at Santa Anita. Demuro rode just two winners that winter before leaving – an allowance race at Santa Anita and Auction House in the Turf Paradise Breeders’ Cup Handicap in Arizona.

“We got to be pretty good friends,” Mandella said. “He was the greatest kid. He was very athletic and good on a horse. I hated to see him leave when he did.”

Mandella recalls that Demuro found it difficult to gain attention from California trainers.

“He was from Italy and that was hard enough,” Mandella said. “He wasn’t from England. It’s hard to break in. I don’t think he’d been to Japan at that time.”

Demuro has made occasional forays into American racing since the winter of 2002. He was back at Del Mar briefly that summer, but did not have a winner, and has since ridden stakes at Saratoga (10th on Meridiana in the 2003 Sword Dancer) and Del Mar (eighth on Lasika in the 2005 Del Mar Oaks).

More recently, he has ridden in Japan on a temporary license when not riding in Italy.

Mandella was in Dubai over the weekend – he started Champ Pegasus, who finished 12 in the $5 million Sheema Classic, the race before the Dubai World Cup.

Through all the commotion at Meydan Racecourse, Mandella said he never visited with Demuro. Mandella said he watched the race on television at his hotel in advance of catching an overnight flight to California, and noticed Demuro’s emotional reaction to the win.

Interviewed on horseback after the race, Demuro dedicated the win to the people of Japan, two weeks after that country was stricken by an earthquake and tsunami.

“It looked like it touched him pretty good,” Mandella said.

Demuro did not stay around Meydan for long. He was back in Italy on Sunday where he rode two stakes at San Rossore racecourse in Pisa. Demuro finished second and third in the stakes, losing one race to his 18-year-old brother, Cristian.