Many happy returns to Frankie Dettori, who turns 50 on Tuesday. Yes, that fresh-faced cheeky chappy who went through the card at Ascot and presented Top of the Pops has been around for half a century, which means you must be old too!
To mark the occasion, I’ve tried to come up with a list of his five best winning rides, undeterred by the fact that there have been thousands of them, or that he bagged his first Group One five years before Oisin Murphy was born.
I look forward to a long list of shocking omissions being drawn to my attention in the comments section. Someone is going to accuse me of recency bias but I prefer to consider how lucky we are that 60% of Dettori’s best efforts have come within the past four years.
I phoned a few folk to chew it over. Thanks go to Rory Delargy of the Irish Field, who, being Rory, immediately nominated the Norma Macauley-trained Fourwalk, winner of a 0-90 handicap at Nottingham in the summer of 1989, when L Dettori was a 3lb claimer.
Rory thinks little fish are sweet. On the other hand, John Gosden’s assessment of Dettori is as “probably the greatest international jockey of all time, with a remarkable ability to adapt to different circumstances, and styles of racing and tracks, anywhere in the world” and I’ve adopted that spirit for this list, unashamedly focused on the races that matter most.
5) Never Can Tell, 2011 Cesarewitch
There have been major handicaps which Dettori could only have lost by falling off, as when Lord North slalomed through the Cambridgeshire field. But this 89-rated mare was no good thing from the worst draw in stall 36. Having begged trainer Jamie Osborne to let him follow his own route, Dettori somehow managed to keep the lead while crossing in front of the entire field, then steered her into the middle of the Rowley Mile after the turn for home, from which position she repelled all challenges. “I didn’t know what Frankie was doing up the straight,” Osborne said, but added: “I felt very much he was the right rider for her, as there’s no better man to judge the pace.”
4) Wicklow Brave, 2016 Irish St Leger
Talented enough to have won a County Hurdle but so quirky that he beat himself on other occasions, the mighty Wicklow Brave had Dettori aboard for the first time and the result was an 11-1 victory in a four-runner race. Punters couldn’t get enough of Order Of St George, unbeaten for more than a year and a handsome winner at Royal Ascot, but he was sunk by a beautifully judged front-running effort by the Italian. “Willie [Mullins] gave me free rein and said, if you want to go to the front and do your stuff, work away,” Dettori reported. The finish is here or you can watch the whole race if you have the Attheraces app.
3) Alkaased, 2005 Japan Cup
Another tricky draw, as Alkaased was wide in 14 of 18. Luca Cumani told his jockey he must get to the rail. “Who do you think I am, Houdini?” came the retort but the rail was duly bagged by being slow from the stalls and crossing behind the field. From there, Alkaased crept through the pack so that, at the turn for home, he was magically poised to pounce. The fast-finishing Heart’s Cry was then held off by the width of a betting slip.
2) Queen’s Trust, 2016 Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf
It would be nice to pick one of the more important of Frankie’s wins in America but this looks the best ride to me, aboard a mare whose only other win was in a Kempton maiden. She had talent but something always seemed to go wrong for her. Then Dettori climbed on top for the first time and got her home by a nose in the richest race she’d contested. It was a hold-up ride of necessity, as she was slow to go, and the timing of his challenge and his route through the pack had to be spot on, or she’d have been inched out.
1) Enable, 2017 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
Yes, OK, he was clearly on the best horse. At this point, Enable’s next defeat was two years in the future. But this Arc was at Chantilly, with its tricky open run to an early left-hand turn. From his inside draw in stall two, Dettori was fretting about the risk of being trapped against the rail, worried about how much horse he might have to use up to avoid that. While he had a willing partner, his solution was faultless, going forward at first before conceding the lead to Idaho and tracking him on his quarters. Many a big-name horse has been beaten by the rider’s complacency or lack of awareness. Here we saw a great horse benefiting from her jockey’s masses of experience and knowhow. It was a sublime moment.
That being said, there were at least two other Arc wins that could have topped this list, when Dettori somehow got Marienbard to win from a helpful draw and when he made light of a really bad draw on Golden Horn. So what would your list look like?
Tuesday’s best bets
It’s a pity to see Jessica Rabbit (2.05) shortening to 3-1 from the opening 11-2 but she has a really likeable chance at Wincanton. From the Graeme McPherson yard that is operating at its best ever strike-rate, she beat a big field by daylight at Doncaster and the runner-up has since been even more impressive.
Guernesey (3.05) is a scopey type who should improve for handicaps, having only had a couple of chances since leaving France. The Philip Hobbs yard is doing a lot better than when the grey was last seen and 9-1 looks big.
Pick of the Newcastle card could be Feldspar (1.45), a 13-2 shot who scored last time on just his second start for a new yard. Just 2lb higher and with Hollie Doyle up, he can build on that.