Gone Too Soon: Stefano Cherchi Passes Away at 23

The 2024 flat season may be in its infancy but it seems likely to have already provided its most heartbreakingly tragic story of the year, with the devastating news that 23-year-old jockey, Stefano Cherchi, has lost his battle for life following a fall in Australia.

Tragedy Strikes at Canberra

The fateful moment came in a freak accident at Canberra Racecourse on 20 March, 2024. Setting off in that 1m turf event, Cherchi was well-fancied for success, with his mount Hasime sent off as the 18/5 favourite. However, in a completely unpredictable incident, Hasime stumbled and fell, causing two other runners to unseat their riders and a further horse to pull up amidst the chaos.

The four horses involved escaped unscathed, as did riders Ellen Hennessy, Jeff Penza, and Shaun Gyner. However, Cherchi remained stricken on the track as the severity of the unfolding situation became clear.

After receiving medical at the track for over an hour, an unconscious Cherchi was then moved to a hospital in the Australian capital. Diagnosed with a major head injury and internal bleeding, Cherchi was placed in an induced coma whilst his family, loved ones, and the racing community prayed for a recovery.

Sadly for all involved, there was no way back from his devastating injuries, with 3 April, 2024 bringing a statement that nobody wanted to hear, with the Professional Jockeys Association announcing, “With deep sadness, the Cherchi family have announced their beloved son Stefano passed away peacefully today. The family are very grateful for the love, prayers & messages sent by the racing community across the world.”

A Talent Taken Way Before His Time

Whilst the cruel incident occurred on the other side of the world, Cherchi first rose to prominence on the British racing scene. In common with Frankie Dettori, Andrea Atzeni, and Marco Ghiani, Cherchi was born in Sardinia before moving to England as a 16-year-old as he attempted to chase his dreams and follow in the footsteps of his hugely successful compatriots.

It’s fair to say that the talented rider was well on his way to becoming the next premier rider to hail from the Italian island. Making his debut on Casina Di Notte at Nottingham in August 2018, Cherchi’s first winner arrived aboard the Marco Botti-trained Withoutdestination at Wolverhampton in April 2019. 13 further wins followed in his first full season – a tally which increased to 19 in 2020.

2021 would represent the most successful season of Cherchi’s career, as he rattled in 35 winners at a very solid 12% strike rate. Those numbers dipped to 26 in 2022 and 12 in 2023, possibly playing a role in Cherchi’s decision to switch to Australia. All told, Cherchi rode 106 winners in Britain, earning over £900,000 in prize money for connections.

Coming closest to a Group Race victory when second aboard Great Generation in the 2023 Firth of Clyde Stakes at Ayr, he gained a first Group 1 ride when partnering the Ben Brookhouse runner, Redhot Whisper in the Futurity Trophy at Doncaster.

It was, however, in handicaps where Cherchi achieved his greatest successes, picking up wins in the high-profile Grey Horse Handicap at Newmarket, Brighton Mile, and a significant 1m2f event at the Doncaster St. Leger Meeting. His final British win came aboard Daysofourlives at Chelmsford on 7 November 2023, and the last win of his short life on Flying Bat at Gosford in New South Wales. That success came just four days before the Canberra incident.

Tributes Pour In

In addition to being a talented horseman, Cherchi was one of the most polite, popular, and charming members of the weighing room. Unsurprisingly therefore, there was a genuine flood of tributes following the news of his death.

Marco Botti, for whom Cherchi rode more winners than any other trainer, stated, “It’s very sad. When he came to England he was only 16, and since then, he’s become part of the family”. Botti subsequently set up a GoFundMe page to support the Cherchi family, with the fund rapidly soaring past the £50,000 mark as donations came in from far and wide.

Following his time at the Newmarket yard of Botti, Cherchi moved to become the main apprentice at the emerging Amy Murphy operation. Like all who had known the jockey, Murphy was heartbroken by the news, stating “It’s absolutely devastating beyond belief. He had his whole life in front of him, and it’s so cruel he’s had that snatched away from him”.

One of the most tragic aspects of this tale is that tragedy struck at what appears to have been one of the happiest periods in Cherchi’s life. Already off the mark with two winners in Australia, Stefano was looking forward to returning to Britain for further rides in Group 1 events and had found love with Brittany Fallon – daughter of legendary flat jockey Kieren and sister to Cieren, who is well on his way to following in his father’s footsteps.

Kieren Fallon described his daughter’s boyfriend as, “the most polite, nice, young man you would ever meet”, in addition to praising his talent in the saddle and dedication to the craft. Brittany, meanwhile, posted a heartbreaking video montage of their time together with the caption, “I’ll love you forever, thank you for showing me the most passionate kind of love I could have only ever imagined.”

He may not have been here as long as anyone would have hoped, but Stefano Cherchi certainly made a mark on the sport he loved and all of those fortunate enough to have known him. Racing is an inherently dangerous game but knowledge of that risk does not make the tragedy any easier to comprehend and it is a sad, sad day for the sport.