Racing: Ascot poorer without Dettori

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The Independent Online
Given the complaints which always arrive from a po-faced minority when Lanfranco Dettori performs one of his spectacular victory dismounts, it is a little ironic that the injury which will probably cost him his championship was sustained not on the racecourse or winners' enclosure, but in the paddock beforehand. Whatever the cause, though, the opening day at Royal Ascot tomorrow will be the first of many major cards this summer from which Dettori's name will be missing, and his absence will be felt almost as keenly by the punters as it will by John Gosden or Sheikh Mohammed.

Dettori's detractors, those who feel that his displays of joy and spirit are somehow demeaning to a great occasion, are the same sort of people who would prefer Boycott to Gower, or Ray Wilkins to Gascoigne. He makes racing fun in a way which no one else can, and does more to attract new followers to the sport than all of the British Horseracing Board's marketing initiatives put together. Without him, this could become a flat season in more ways than one.

Even those who will benefit from his absence appreciate Dettori's significance. Pat Eddery, for instance, now stands a favourite's chance of winning the championship and equalling Lester Piggott's total of 11 titles, but as he said this weekend, "to be honest I would rather he was riding, so I could have a fight for the championship."

He still may, though, since neither Richard Quinn (52 winners on turf) or Kieran Fallon (49) will be slacking in their pursuit of Eddery's total of 69. Eddery, though, appears to stand every chance of increasing his lead at Ascot this week, and he is second favourite, at 11-4, to lift the London Clubs Trophy, formerly the Ritz Club, awarded to the meeting's most successful rider.

Yet even Eddery will do well to outride Michael Kinane, who is engaged in all but two of Ascot's 24 races and is 8-13 to emerge as the top jockey. Kinane suffered an unscheduled dismount of his own at Gowran Park on Saturday, when his mount in the opening race threw him through the rails, but the former Irish champion was unscathed.

Less fortunate was Paul Fessey, whose mount Secret Voucher fell when leading the William Hill Trophy at York on Saturday. Fessey spent a second night in hospital last night, though his condition is not serious, while Seb Sanders, who was unseated in the same incident, is expected to resume riding at Ascot tomorrow.

This will, it seems, be Willie Carson's last Royal meeting, and one of the jockey's greatest supporters over the years may at last be returning to form. Dick Hern saddled his first winner of the season at Sandown on Saturday, his first, indeed, since Alhaarth won the Dewhurst Stakes in October, and afterwards was clearly relieved to have ended a run of 246 days without success.

"I don't think I have ever had a longer wait for a winner," Hern said. "That was badly needed."

Hern's racecourse persona is the exact opposite of Dettori's, but in his own way he too is a great favourite among the punters. A winner or two for the Major in the coming weeks - perhaps even with Alhaarth in the Irish Derby - would go at least some way towards filling the hole left by Dettori's unfortunate depature.