Racing: Dettori aims to lighten the load and live longer

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The Independent Online
A year on from the seven winners that changed his life, and some would say his personality, Frankie Dettori hopes that some more numbers can make a significant impact on his life. Under advice from the trainer John Gosden he plans to cut back on travelling the country in search of winners and concentrate on the biggest meetings

We have seen a lot of Frankie Dettori in these last 12 months since he uniquely rode seven consecutive winners at Ascot's Festival Of British Racing. He has been on television, soberly in Question Of Sport and maniacally in Top Of The Pops, on Frank Bruno's back for breakfast cereal promotion and on horses throughout the world. Too many horses and too many countries for Dettori's satisfaction in fact. Next year we will not see as much.

When the Italian conceded the championship title to Kieren Fallon this week, his mouthjerk reaction was the insistence that he would be out to reclaim the mantle in 1998. That is unlikely to happen, however, as Dettori's advisers, and even the man himself, now appreciate that the steaming locomotive of his career must be slowed if he is not to run into the buffers prematurely. Frankie Dettori, it seems, will watch many more races next season from the sweat-splashed haven of the jockeys' room. Today's full programme at the meeting he swept into his jockeys' bag 12 months' ago may go down as a collectors' item.

The prime mover in the effort to clip an anchor to the young man's belt is John Gosden, the Newmarket trainer. Gosden and Dettori are no master and serf team; they have sliced the blade across their palms and clasped hands. While Svengali would be too strong a word for Gosden's influence, then mentor would be too weak. The trainer has been hammering his message for a while.

"I told Frankie back in March that the championship wasn't his scene any more," Gosden says. "If the championship was done on money won, as it is with trainers, which means quality races and quality jockeys, then I would like to see him win that every year. But the endless and mindless pursuit of winners is very destructive on jockeys like him.

"He doesn't need to go on doing that because otherwise he'll burn himself out and his riding career will be finished at age 30 to 32 rather like Steve Cauthen's was. I hope from next year he goes for quality races and money-won and not chase after the seller at a minor track on the Monday.

"You wouldn't find the top Americans doing it. Boys like [Chris] McCarron and [Gary] Stevens do not muck around in cheap claiming races. They know bloody well it's usually a recipe to getting hurt. It is very important that Frankie extends his career another five or 10 years, rather than burning himself up trying to notch up wins. He's beginning to appreciate that, though it's hard for someone as competitive as he is to understand that."

The only ligament that attaches Dettori to his present schedule appears to be the generally enshrined belief that the jockeys' championship identifies the best rider. That too may snap when he wholly acknowledges that the prize is as much about stamina and the right connections (Fallon was nowhere last year when he rode less and was not retained by Henry Cecil).

"There is a great pressure from the public for me to become champion jockey and once I am in the middle of it all I enjoy it, I enjoy the competition," Dettori says. "But what John says make a lot of sense.

"It's very hard to find a happy medium but it does make a bit of sense to slow down at this stage of my career. I could pick and choose a little bit more so that I can have a longer career."

Dettori says he has enjoyed life post-Ascot, but there is no doubt that the grinning monster that emerged from the frothing flasks and bubbling test tubes of that day is a difficult act to maintain. There is an embellishment to Dettori's racecourse persona and he is playing a part, but that part is virtually him. He's a bit like Sean Connery really.

"I'm a normal human being like everyone else, who has his good days and bad days," he says. "But since last September I've been very much in the public eye and people want to see me smiling all the time and most of the time I am naturally.

"I make an effort to have a smile on my face and enjoy what I am doing, but this is a job that needs a lot of concentration and I can't be like that absolutely all the time. It can be a little bit of a shock or a disappointment for people to see me just being normal."

Normal has indeed been a bit disappointing for some of the scrutineers this season and tales have developed of a churlish and resentful figurehead. Dettori told us at a press launch on Monday that his blood is richly Italian and volatile, which may make him the character he is but is also fuel for those searching for the underbelly.

"For him to come back for those winter tours all over the place and lift himself again wasn't easy," Gosden says. "You need your stables to be in good form at the start of a season to help lift your spirits and none of his were firing. If your horses aren't kicking in - which he suffered this spring with me, Godolphin and [David] Loder, his three main yards - the days are longer and more tiring because the adrenalin isn't there to keep you flowing.

"Godolphin, in particular, were in appalling form and Frankie was watching all the finishes at the York May meeting on the big screen at the furlong pole with the rest of the field a good 20 lengths in front. If you're not on the right horses and not winning races it becomes very frustrating. You go through the same effort and then find the horses aren't good enough.

"And we're talking about a passionate jockey here, not an automated machine, and consequently when it's not flowing for him he shows it. If he didn't he wouldn't be the same competitor. If the frustrations are there he expresses it, he doesn't pretend everything is great while the crockery is being thrown about. He's always been a person who shows his emotions and wears his heart on his sleeve."

So when Frankie Dettori gives a performance this afternoon it will be well worth receiving. It may be repetitive, it may be hackneyed but he has got bored of it long before his audience.

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