HOW WE MET: FRANKIE DETTORI AND DAVID PLATT

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The Independent Culture
The jockey Lanfranco "Frankie" Dettori, 25, was brought up in Milan. In 1995 he won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Lammtarra; recently he made history when he won all seven races in one afternoon at Ascot. His new book, A Year in the Life of Frankie Dettori, is published this month. He lives in Newmarket.

The footballer David Platt, 30, was brought up in Manchester. After playing for Crewe Alexandra and Aston Villa, he moved to Italy in 1991, playing for Bari, Sampdoria and Juventus. He returned to England last season, to play for Arsenal, for a transfer fee of pounds 4.75m. He lives in London with his wife, Rachel

FRANKIE DETTORI: I first met David about two years ago, when he was staying in a hotel in Milan just 200 yards from my parents' house. His brother-in-law, Nicky, is the travelling head lad at my stables and plays a key part in my life.

I knew that David was related to Nicky, so when I found out that David was at this hotel to play for Sampdoria, I made an effort to go and see him before the match. He wanted to catch up on all the English gossip; we had a cup of coffee and a good chat. It was one of those times when you meet someone and feel like you've known them all your life. Now we aren't able to see each other that often - when I'm really busy, he's not and vice versa - but when we do, it's like we saw each other just yesterday.

From that very first meeting, I saw that he's very straight down the line. He's a really reliable person. What you see is what you get. Especially in Italy, soccer players behave like movie stars; they lose perspective of who they are as people. David has never done that; he has stayed exactly the same person. That's one of the key things about his personality - he's very honest.

You can always turn to him for a straight answer. To have that and talent as well is great; that's why the England coaches made him England captain. You need a strong figure, and David's the man. As a player, he's very consistent; and the bigger the match, the better his performance.

I've been an Arsenal fan since I came to England - David coming to Arsenal has just been a bonus. I was interviewed by Julian Wilson for the BBC just after I had my seventh win in one afternoon at Ascot, and I asked how Arsenal had done. When I heard that they'd won, it made the day all the more special.

As sportsmen, we can both relate to the pressures - the concentration, the effect on family life of having to be away a lot, the training. We both have to be very fit; everybody sees the end results, but a lot goes on behind the scenes. We lead the same kind of lives.

My conversations with David are the most peculiar in the world. I want to talk about soccer; he wants to talk about racing - he really likes it. Maybe David could become a trainer; Mick Channon, another professional footballer, did it. David knows it's something that you can't do overnight, but he does know a big chunk about racing. For the moment, though, he's decided to buy a horse and has sent it to be trained by John Gosden, my boss. It ran the other week, but Sheikh Mohammed, who has first call on my services, had another horse in the race, so I had to ride that. Who should come up and beat me in the last half-furlong? David's horse. He was listening to the race down the line in Georgia, and nearly swallowed the phone when it won at 20-1.

I hope that one day I'll get to ride his horse, although I'm under strict orders from David's wife, Rachel, not to use the whip too much. It's a family pet rather than a race horse. For David, racing is more pleasure than business, a way to get away from football. He comes to watch me when he can. He knows exactly when I've done something wrong and is not slow to tell me about it. But he was the first to leave a message on my ansaphone when I won those seven races. That shows what a good friend he is.

What I like about David is that he's one of those people whose heartbeat is always 80. He doesn't lose it under pressure - he's not like a McEnroe. He doesn't throw the toys out of the pram.

DAVID PLATT: We first met a couple of years ago when Frankie came over to Milan with his girlfriend Catherine, now his fiancee. I was playing for Sampdoria, and we were playing Inter Milan. They were looking for a couple of tickets for the game, so I sorted them out with some and met them in the hotel bar the day before the game.

My initial impression was that he was bubbly. He's very, very friendly. He's not got a stand-offish nature. As soon as you meet him, you feel as though you've known him for ages. That's rare. The majority of people can be friendly, but they don't give you the whole of their character. Whether it's right or wrong, you get the whole of Frankie Dettori the first time you meet him.

What strikes me every time I see Frankie is that he always seems to be up and happy. That's very, very difficult, especially in his life. There's a lot of media about him and a lot of attention focused on him. To remain that upbeat all the time is even more commendable when you consider the work that these people do - travelling left, right and centre, getting up early for riding work, then on to a racecourse to ride six horses and then maybe the next day going abroad somewhere. It's not an easy life.

Since the seven winners, Frankie has become a national celebrity. That's when the difficulty starts. When you're at your place of work, you expect that pressure. But when you're just walking down the street shopping, that's when the celebrity status comes into play, and that can be a burden. But he seems to be handling it very well.

We get on very well because we both enjoy the same things. We like going out and having a meal in nice places. Recently, we went to Newmarket to this Chinese restaurant called the Fountain. It was the day of the races, and of the sales as well. We'd had our meal and people were walking in left, right and centre. Frankie would get up and greet everybody who came in. It wasn't Frankie's restaurant but it looked as though he owned it.

My wife and I own a couple of horses. Although my wife says to him, "When you get on my horse, you're not going to hit him," Frankie says they need reminding. But he could find himself jocked off a horse, not by another jockey or a trainer - but by my wife.

He's got a divine talent. He gets in tune with the horse. He enjoys the character horses and is able to get the best out of them. He's not averse to being in groups, he's not a loner. He sees what comes from winning races - that's what drives him on. There's a determination there to improve himself and ride a winner all the time. The moment any sportsman becomes content with what he's got, then he starts to go downhill. You should always be setting yourself more goals. Yes, he can win the Derby; yes, he can win the Arc de Triomphe; yes, he can ride seven winners - but there are always more goals that you can set yourself.

Then it becomes harder. Frankie Dettori has got to ride over 100 winners every year. Then all of a sudden, it becomes 150. Then he's got to win the jockeys' championship every year. People expect those kind of standards. That becomes a problem sometimes.

If Frankie quit tomorrow, he'd still be talked about in 50 years' time - because of the seven winners, but also because of the wins he's got in the Classic races. But I think it's too early to say what he could do, because a jockey has such a long life in terms of a sport; look at people like Pat Eddery, who's been at the top of the tree for I don't know how many years. You would say comfortably that Frankie's got 20 more years left.

Once, when we went out to lunch with Frankie, he brought along a friend of his from Luca Cumani's stable. Frankie had started out at the same level as this friend - as a stable-lad. But Frankie had progressed, while this other lad was in a similar situation to seven years ago. What was nice was that there was still that friendship there that Frankie hadn't let slip just because of his status. That's the mark of him as a person. !

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