He has a reputation as a fitness freak but in-form jockey Alberto Sanna has recalibrated his approach after a string of serious injuries, turning to Muay Thai as he looks to train smarter.
During a suspension earlier this month, the Italian spent four days in Phuket practising the elements of the discipline that transfer to horse riding.
“You work mostly on controlling your balance and your core. It helps you understand your body and how strong you can be,” said Sanna, who is enjoying his best start to a season with six winners so far. “The [combat aspect of the] training is very, very easy.”
Long known for his relentless fitness regime that included gruelling runs and bike rides, Sanna missed large chunks of last season because of a shattered hip and a broken ankle and says he is no longer interested in punishing his body.
“I just train easy now. I was so stupid before to do many things to put pain on my body because everything was damaging. Now I just take it much easier. I train, but just easy, not stupid,” he said, adding that his preparation for Sunday’s races was a far cry from that of years past.
“I woke up, I was light so I just watched Netflix, did some warm-up exercises and relaxed my mind before the races.”
Sanna also travelled to Thailand to train during the off-season and says his most recent trip was a breath of fresh air.
“You really work hard. Those four days, if I stayed in Hong Kong it would have made me upset because I see the horses running that I should have been riding,” he said.
“It refreshes my mind. Last year when I wasn’t riding I was always stuck in Hong Kong and it drives you mad. I think in this game the mind and of course your health are the most important things.”
Sanna continues to practise Muay Thai in Hong Kong and believes it has contributed to his strong start to the term, with the Italian’s full book of rides at Happy Valley on Wednesday night testament to the form he is in.
The 34-year-old is confident he has “plenty of nice rides” and is thrilled with the support he is getting from a range of trainers.
As good as Sanna’s start to the season has been, he’s been quite reliant on first-year trainer Douglas Whyte – 20 of his 60 rides and four of his six winners have come for the South African – but he teams up with six trainers on Wednesday night.
“I’m riding more for other trainers, which is good. I’m looking to get more support from other trainers, it’s good to ride more winners for other people,” he said. “Of course I’m happy to ride winners for Douglas, but you can’t rely on one trainer.”
While he partners Winning Endeavour, Bright Kid and Last Kingdom for Whyte, he also rides for Francis Lui Kin-wai (Golden Kid), Chris So Wai-yin (Cerefino), Michael Chang Chun-wai (Happy Rocky), Me Tsui Yu-sak (Divine Unicorn) and Tony Millard (Sichuan Dar).