Two beaten favourites at Wolverhampton on Monday made it 18 days without a winner for Frankie Dettori. Even so, it unmistakably felt like his first afternoon back in the big time. For both parties, the news that he has signed a retainer for Sheikh Joaan al-Thani – one of the Qatari investors suddenly taking on the superpowers of the Turf – represents a clarion statement of intent.
At 42, Dettori is entitled to consider himself still in his prime, and arguably the world’s most accomplished jockey. His humiliating six-month drugs suspension admittedly introduced an unfamiliar uncertainty to his return as a freelance, after an 18-year association with Godolphin. He has mustered only five winners from his first month back. Having always thrived on momentum, however, Dettori can be expected to obtain renewed impetus from this new foothold in the elite races.
For Sheikh Joann, meanwhile, their partnership contains the delicious potential to emphasise the challenge he and his compatriots represent to Dettori’s former employers in Dubai. The Maktoums are unaccustomed to rivals with pockets as deep as their own, but the different branches of the Thani dynasty have quickly emerged as a match for their Gulf neighbours in the bloodstock market – whether in the sales ring, or in private deals.
Sheikh Joann’s new empire is expanding on both sides of the Channel, his French interests embracing a Normandy stud farm and a Classic winner in Style Vendome. But those horses stabled with Richard Hannon – notably the top-class Toronado, heading for a rematch with Dawn Approach at Goodwood – will still be ridden by Richard Hughes.
Dettori and his new patron concluded the deal at Chantilly on Sunday. “I’m thrilled to have taken a job for an outstanding new owner,” the jockey said. “I had a long talk with him and he seems very ambitious. He’s got plenty of horses, and plans to expand, so it’s a good opportunity for me to get back in the big league. Sheikh Joann plans to be a big player in racing and, with my experience, I hope I can help him.”
Speaking on At The Races, Dettori played down his struggles during what has proved a very brief stint as a freelance. “It was hard to come back in the middle of the season,” he said. “The good horses have been taken. Nevertheless you’ve got to start building a new business and slowly we are getting into top gear.”
Camelot, whose connections have been discussing his retirement, is among just eight acceptors for the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on Saturday. Others include two of his Ballydoyle stablemates, Mars and Declaration Of War, but the sponsors are not quoting the latter after his impressive win over a shorter distance at Ascot. They make Al Kazeem the 11-8 favourite, from The Fugue on 4-1.
Chris Mcgrath’s Nap: Duke Of Perth (7.30 Bath)
First three were strung out by 14 lengths when this one was turned over by a thriving rival last time, and he will take the beating off the same mark here.
Next best: Wadacre Sarko (3.30 Hamilton)
Gradually improving, proving suited by the step up to this trip at Beverley last week, and should be competitive under a penalty.
One to watch: Grevillea (Mick Channon) made an auspicious start to her career at Newbury last week, held up off a steady pace but managing third despite meeting traffic.