Frankie reigns again but fate delivers poignant twist

'Dubai Millennium's injury was a kick in the teeth. But when I heard the crowd it was absolutely amazing. It helped me grow taller'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The emotional rollercoaster endured by Frankie Dettori over the past two months plunged and lifted to new lows and highs here yesterday. The Italian scored on both his rides on his comeback to the saddle during the afternoon, 66 days after breaking a leg in a light aircraft crash that killed the pilot. But just hours earlier, with cruel symmetry, his favourite horse Dubai Millennium suffered a similar injury from which there will be no return.

The emotional rollercoaster endured by Frankie Dettori over the past two months plunged and lifted to new lows and highs here yesterday. The Italian scored on both his rides on his comeback to the saddle during the afternoon, 66 days after breaking a leg in a light aircraft crash that killed the pilot. But just hours earlier, with cruel symmetry, his favourite horse Dubai Millennium suffered a similar injury from which there will be no return.

The Godolphin champion fractured a hind leg during a routine training gallop. The four-year-old colt, beaten only once in ten races and hailed as one of the best ever seen, pulled up lame after a spin on the Limekilns under his regular partner Anthony Proctor. He will undergo surgery today to have his leg pinned and it is likely that he will be saved for stud duties.

Dubai Millennium was the one horse to keep Dettori's flame flickering during his weeks of convalescence. And as the jockey returned to the arena that he so clearly loves it burned bright once again. Dettori had expressed worries that he might have lost the knack but as he crouched low into overdrive on his first mount, Atlantis Prince, in the final furlong of the Tote Exacta Stakes, all ghosts were laid to rest. The two-year-old had been headed by a rival but the twice champion changed his mind for him and persuaded him to rally and get home by three-quarters of a length.

Half an hour later Dettori was back in the winners' circle on Dim Sums after the Tote Scoop6 Nursery Handicap. And to make the afternoon perfect for him Ray Cochrane, his fellow passenger in the ill-fated aircraft, had ridden the winner preceding his.

Dettori is one of racing's genuine superstars and his public were there to let him know how they felt. He was cheered as he walked into the unsaddling enclosure for a pre-racing interview, looking dapper in a dark suit and shirt and grey silk tie; as he walked into the parade ring for the leg up on Atlantis Prince; as he rode the colt to the start and as he rode him back in triumph.

He was visibly moved by the reception, the adulation, the welcome-back banners. "The news about Dubai Millennium was a kick in the teeth," he said. "He was a great, great horse. But when I heard the crowd it was absolutely amazing. It helped me grow taller and reminded me that it is not just the riding horses I enjoy, it is the whole package, the whole of the sport. It showed me that he first 12 years of my career did not go to waste."

Dettori's technique remains with him - not that there was much doubt about that - but he admitted that, after so long out of action, his fitness was still lacking. "I had been doing all the right ground work," he said, "walking and swimming. But riding is what counts. After two furlongs I realised that I was mentally sharp enough and had that will to win. The leg was OK too, though I felt a little pinch at the furlong marker in the first race. But my chest was burning as I was pulling up and it took me a while to stop blowing. It did open the pipes, though, and after the second race I recovered well."

There will be no flying dismounts for a while. Dettori's surgeon, Fred Robinson, who repaired his ankle, was on hand yesterday to make sure. "He told me that in time I can jump off, but for now just to slither down quietly."

Dettori has missed three Group One wins - on Dubai Millennium, on Kayf Tara and Mutafaweq - in his absence but will be back on the top-level trail this afternoon at Deauville, where he rides Godolphin's Lend A Hand in the Prix Maurice du Gheest. One legacy of his air accident is that he will be going to France in a scheduled flight.

The start of his first race yesterday was close by the site of the fatal crash. "When I got to the start I saw the ditch and the dyke and I froze for a second," he said. "I thought of Patrick and what had happened. I am not saying I will never fly in a light aircraft again, but not in the foreseeable future. It will make it more difficult to travel - it would be an hour to Deauville from the Newmarket strip, considerably longer via Heathrow and Paris - but that is the way it will be."

Dettori's brush with death means that he will no longer ride at ordinary meetings on Mondays and Tuesdays, in order to spend more time with his wife Catherine and 10-month old son Leo, both of whom were with him yesterday. "I love what I do," he said, "and I am truly pleased to be back with my friends among the camaraderie of the weighing-room. They said well done after the first race, and after the second that they wished I was still away. God gave me this talent I have to ride horses and he also gave me a second chance at life. I was so nearly on the other side and I have to sacrifice some of the job to spend more time with my family."

It is not often that a jockey will overshadow a horse, but Dettori did that yesterday to Crimplene, ready winner of the day's Group One race, the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood on her first attempt at 10 furlongs. It was the filly's third Group One victory of the year after the Irish 1,000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes and she now has the Breeders' Cup Distaff in her sights.

David Nicholls at last triumphed as a trainer in the race in which he enjoyed his finest moment as a jockey as Tayseer won the Stewards' Cup. It was 18 years ago that Nicholls, based at Thirsk in North Yorkshire, steered home Soba in the historic sprint handicap. He said: "Winning the race as a trainer is better than doing it as a jockey because I can have a few drinks tonight."

Tayseer reaped the benefit of the skills of Richard Hughes, who had won this race previously with Shikari's Son (1995) and Harmonic Way last year. In typical fashion, Hughes was content to bide his time before producing Tayseer in the final furlong on the far side. The 13-2 chance used his potent turn of foot to come home one and half lengths clear of Bon Ami. It was the same distance back to Cubism in third with the Nicholls-trained RoyalResult in fourth.

Dubai Millennium: The story of a super horse

Foaled: 20 March 1996 Bay colt by Seeking The Gold out of Colorado Dancer Breeder: Sheikh Mohammed Owner: Godolphin Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor Record: Races: 10 Wins: Nine 1998: 28 October: Won maiden (1m) at Yarmouth by five lengths from Tabareeh 1999: 3 May: Won stakes race (1m) at Doncaster by nine lengths from Ettrick 18 May: Won Predominate Stakes(1m 2f) at Goodwood by3 1/ 2 lengths from Red Sea 5 June: Finished nine-length ninth to Oath in the Derby (1m 4f) at Epsom 18 July: Won Prix Eugene Adam(1m 2f) at Maisons-Laffitte bythree lengths from State Shinto 15 August: Won Prix Jacques le Marois (1m) at Deauville by2 1/ 2 lengths from Slickly 26 September: Won QueenElizabeth II Stakes (1m) at Ascot by six lengths from Almushtarak 2000: 2 March: Won theSheikh Maktoum Al MaktoumChallenge Round 3 (1m 2f) atNad Al Sheba by 4 1/ 2 lengthsfrom Lear Spear 25 March: Won Dubai World Cup (1m 2f) at Nad Al Sheba bysix lengths from Behrens 21 June: Won Prince Of Wales's Stakes (1m 2f) at Royal Ascot by eight lengths from Sumitas Total earnings: £2,752,610 Estimated stud value: £12.5m Estimated covering fee: £50,000 Estimated first year earnings: £2.5m (covering 50 mares) Dubai Millennium was ridden by Frankie Dettori in his first nine races with the American Jerry Bailey deputising at Royal Ascot in what proved to be his last race.

Comments