Racing: Dettori down to business with Centaurus

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The Independent Online

The man himself confessed to being nervous about his comeback. The bones in the collarbone broken in a fall at Sandown in early July had knitted, but his stomach was knotted. "I was the first in the weighing room today," he said, "I was so excited at being back. I felt like a kid having his first ride, definitely a bit twitchy.

"I think it was because of all the expectations. I felt like I'd been away far longer than a couple of months. But then, as soon as I got down to the start, I felt like I'd never been away."

There was no fairytale start. Dettori left the parade-ring on his first ride, in the Godolphin blue silks, with good-luck wishes, applause and requests for autographs and interviews ringing in his ears, but Dubawi's big, backward two-year-old half-sister Princess Nada could manage to beat only two home. Three more also-rans followed.

"I feel fine," he said afterwards. "I've been doing a lot of fitness work; I've been swimming, running five miles a day, and pushing the head off my mechanical wooden horse. I've been riding out for the past two weeks but there's nothing like race-riding itself. I'll need to get my eye in, but it's back to business now. I've enjoyed having time to spend with the family, but then I have the winters to do that. Racing is my job, and I've missed it."

Missed, especially, the big winners, like Dubawi, and having to chance to defend his jockey's title. At the time of his accident, Dettori, 34, was sitting cosily behind the pace being set by Jamie Spencer and since-sidelined Robert Winston with his stable yet to strike form. Now, the crown so tenaciously, and proudly, regained after a ten-year gap will be gone come November. For a competitor, sitting on the sidelines hurts.

"I was going to go to France to see Dubawi in the Jacques le Marois," he said. "But in the end I watched it at home. I knew if he'd lost, we'd all be upset, and if he won and I was there and not riding him, I'd be upset.

"It is a shame the accident to Robert has taken some of the shine off this year's title race, but I wish Jamie and Seb [Sanders] all the best and I'm sure it will go to the wire. And I'm sure they'll appreciate just how tough it is to win a championship."

Yesterday blew the cobwebs away; today the treadmill starts again in earnest. Dettori is on duty for Godolphin at Goodwood in the afternoon, at Windsor in the evening, and then back to Goodwood tomorrow.

He has headline rides in two of the features on the Sussex Downs, Centaurus (2.00) in the March Stakes today and the exciting Layman (3.15) in the Celebration Mile tomorrow. Victory for Centaurus, though, may be a double-edged sword for the Italian; it would rule him out of Motivator's saddle in the Irish Champion Stakes two weeks today and into the Daylami grey's in the St Leger at Doncaster the same afternoon.

The March Stakes has not impinged on the St Leger scene since Michelozzo took both races in 1989 and is now open to older horses. One who certainly fits that description, eight-year-old Mubtaker, sets the standard and is dropping back to Listed company for the first time in more that two years. But unexposed Centaurus could hardly have been more impressive when he won by 15 lengths at Newmarket 15 days ago.

Layman, another lightly raced, was one of France's best juveniles last year and he, too, can repay his team's patience, at the expense of Major's Cast, by using tomorrow's Group 2 contest as a step back towards the top level.

Today's best hope is also at Goodwood; Kenmore (2.30, nap) returns to the scene of his unlucky fourth place last month and looks one to keep on side.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Live Fast (Newmarket 2.40)

NB: Reverence (Newmarket 4.20)