Racing: One win is now enough for Dettori
Ascot Festival: Seven years on from the heavenly seven, the world has turned and Frankie has a fresh perspective
Sunday 28 September 2003
In the main entrance at Ascot racecourse there is an eye-catching sculpture, one of Frankie Dettori poised in mid-flying dismount from the saddle. The work is a tribute to the jockey's feat of seven victories from seven mounts seven years ago, an achievement which has rewarded both the Italian and racing in general not so much with the oxygen of publicity, but in his case a maskful of laughing gas.
Racegoers tend to genuflect in the direction of the piece, almost subconsciously, as though it is some religious relic. Not that too many of the 18,500 here yesterday would have invested in what transpired to be a 25,095-1 seven-timer, but, well, you never know...
For Dettori, that day has created a celebrity which has transcended his sport. The jockey, who is Italian-born but British by adoption of his admirers, has photographs of all seven around his Newmarket home. He even went out and bought the seventh winner, Fujiyama Crest, when the horse came up for sale, its future uncertain. "I was determined to save a horse who changed my life," he says. "Now he has a pampered life here."
Back to the present and Dettori arrived here after what he accepts has been a "bad summer, a bad three months". There had been mischievous talk, in some racing quarters, that Dettori's appetite had diminished. "Everyone jumping on the bandwagon that suddenly I'm no good and I don't care any more," he had reflected contemptuously in the build-up to the Ascot Festival.
After the light-aircraft crash in 2000, in which the pilot died, he "refined" his riding schedule. Dettori refuses to fly in light planes, which does restrict his opportunities. Apart from major race days like this, he tends to be more familiar to the public as a team leader on A Question of Sport, a programme for which his Anglo-Italian chatter and ebullience could have been personally designed.
That doesn't mean that any of his instinctive flair in the saddle has deserted him. Before yesterday, he boasted 81 winners this season. The former champion has his eye on 100. As the Flat season nears its conclusion before giving way to the jumping fraternity, there was more than an idle thought that this could be a transitional occasion for him. Seven from seven, seven years on? There was a certain symmetry about the numbers that appealed to superstitious racing folk.
At two minutes past two we certainly knew that the feat was not to be repeated this year. Fifth on Sheikh Mohammed's Privy Seal in the opening Royal Lodge Stakes guaranteed that. Dettori's mount finished well behind Marcus Tregoning's Snow Ridge, given an exceptionally cool ride from a seemingly impossible position by Martin Dwyer, an unsung member of the weighing room.
It was pleasing to witness such quality from a splendid exponent of his trade after a summer which has not been the most auspicious for the boots-and-breeches brigade. Their contretemps with the Jockey Club over use of their mobiles within racecourse property rumbles on. Racing's rulers are concerned about betting implications if the practice is allowed to continue. The jocks insist this is unfair and affects their livelihood.
But at least they are not incurring the wrath of punters, like their French counterparts. Christophe Soumillon, who rides the likely favourite, Dalakhani, in next Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, has complained about the pressure he and his colleagues have faced from racegoers over the use of the whip, with the jockeys being sworn at, and worse. Not for over-use, you understand, but under-use, at least in the eyes of the betting public. Here, excessive whipping is generally well controlled, though Jamie Spencer, third on Sheikh Mohammed's other horse, Rule Of Law, in the opener, received a two-day ban for an infringement.
In general, Dettori prefers to spare the rod, without spoiling the mount under him, and certainly there was no requirement for extreme measures when he brought home Acclamation ahead of his 13 rivals in the Diadem Stakes. Though the favourite, Airwave, was overturned by Dettori's 9-1 winner, it was a decidedly popular victory. This was not one of the stream of top-class horses that materialise from the Arab stables or Coolmore, but is trained by 78-year-old Gerald Cottrell in Devon and owned by an enthusiastic group who call themselves the Dulford Cavaliers.
Dettori performed the ritual leap from the horse that he reserves for significant winners before hugging the trainer's wife, Peggy. Her husband was absent, as always. This Howard Hughes of the racing world prefers to remain at home, even during an afternoon like this when he could be wallowing in the glory of the moment. "He's a bit shy and prefers to be with his horses," explained his wife, who was just about holding back the tears.
It was to prove the Italian's only triumph of the day, and the ride on Godolphin's Dubai Destination in the day's feature event, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, proved an ignominious one. He finished a well-beaten last behind the scintillating Falbrav. "Something must be wrong," Dettori suggested.
For the Arab operation, which owns over 200 horses worldwide, the defeat of the Queen Anne Stakes victor will have been a disappointment, but not one to dwell on. You sensed that for Dettori, his win for the owners of Acclamation, at the opposite end of racing's hierarchy, will have provided a wealth of compensation.
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