Dettori craves deliverance in Florida

*

Frankie Dettori rides back into town today and many will spill out of the shops and on to the sidewalk to witness his coming. To see Frankie, one of the best and certainly the most glamorous rider in Europe. To see Frankie, the man who died on the biggest stage of them all 12 months ago.

Frankie Dettori rides back into town today and many will spill out of the shops and on to the sidewalk to witness his coming. To see Frankie, one of the best and certainly the most glamorous rider in Europe. To see Frankie, the man who died on the biggest stage of them all 12 months ago.

Gulfstream Park was a changed place yesterday. The storm that was meant to hit the Floridian coast had blown out and lost its force, a Hurricane Higgins if you like. There was still much precipitation, however, and the dirt track resembled a beach just after the tide had disappeared. Nevertheless, the warm rain at daybreak told us we were in the tropics. This is no Churchill Downs. Dettori certainly hopes so.

It was a year ago in industrial Kentucky that the Italian made a bad mistake. He whipped Swain across the track in the Breeders' Cup Classic and lost far more than his share of the monstrous $4m prize. He lost his reputation.

"One glaring error like that will mark him for life over here," Bill Finley, the racing correspondent of the New York Daily News, says. "It was one of the worst rides in the history of major races. We're not so ignorant and so foolish to think that Frankie Dettori is a hopelessly poor rider, but if on his one big moment in the spotlight he blows it, then that's the impression he's going to leave over here. We don't think he's a bum. Maybe just a little overrated.

"He's not thought of in the United States as a brilliant rider, he's known as the guy who blew the Breeders' Cup.''

It was a ride which a hugely Eurosceptic audience was happy to pick over. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, George Pratt, a professor of electrical engineering, was set the task of analysing tapes of the race. He came to the conclusion that Swain lost about eight and a half feet by his actions, lugging out for 17 strides and losing six inches per stride, more than his margin of defeat.

When he comes down Hallandale Beach Boulevard to this tight, paperclip track, Frankie will therefore understand why the bunting is not out for him. He has, at last, come to terms with Breeders' Cup XV. In the immediate aftermath he deluded himself with a clusterbomb of excuses. The television lights had dazzled his horse, he said. He deliberately swerved clear of the battle-hardened Silver Charm, he said. We half expected, that autumnal day in Louisville, that he would point to the wrong sort of leaves on the track.

Later there would be time for admission. "I lost it," Dettori was able to say. "I absolutely lost everything I learnt. It all went out of the window.''

The jockey may have lost everything, but he has by no means lost everyone. Among the advanced guard in Gulfstream Park's quarantine unit yesterday was Tom Albertrani, the assistant trainer in Godolphin's élite ranks. He recounted the bad time for the Dubai team's retained rider. "Frankie was hitting left-handed quite a bit [that day]," Albertrani said.

"He hit him 13 times and, as the horse [Swain] started drifting, he just kinda lost control of him really. I could see by the way that he was hitting him that most horses would do that under that sort of pressure. By the time he straightened him out it was too late. But he's a good rider and he can learn from his mistakes. We all have confidence in Frankie.''

Also behind the thick chicken-wire of the segregation unit was Luca Cumani, who is almost family to Dettori. In great Italian tradition, they have fought and they have made up and the jockey continues his association at the weekend with Zomaradah in the Filly & Mare Turf (Lend A Hand in the Mile and Daylami in the Turf are his other mounts).

"Frankie is not the sort of person who dwells too much on the past and on mistakes. He'll be his usually bubbly self when he arrives looking forward to a Breeders' Cup meeting this year," Cumani said. "This will definitely work in a positive way for him. He doesn't like making mistakes and he doesn't like what happened to him last year. He will want to put it past him and give all the horses here a positive ride. I'm sure he will.

"He hasn't got to be No 1 in Europe by making too many mistakes and one mistake is allowable. It just happened to be a high profile one. If the same thing had happened at Catterick no-one would have noticed.''

But that is it. It didn't happen at Catterick. It happened on the richest day's racing in the world. They were all watching Europe's best-known jockey that afternoon and, at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, when Frankie must try hard to not try too hard, they will all be watching him again.

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