Frankie Dettori celebrated his farewell to British racing with a fairytale double triumph at Ascot. He claimed a double on his British swansong at Ascot, with an inspired last-to-first victory on King Of Steel in the Champion Stakes and an epic triumph on Trawlerman in the opening Long Distance Cup on Champions Day. He had earlier announced his intention to retire at the end of 2023, but he postponed his retirement for a spell in the United States. Dettori’s farewell tour has not enamoured everyone, with critics seeing it as an extended marketing opportunity that has boosted the jockey’s coffers. However, his value to racing as a crossover star who has transcended the sport cannot be overestimated.
Dettori’s career has spanned 37 years and has yielded more than 3,300 winners. He has won 281 races at the top Group One level and victories in 24 countries. He has shown an outstanding capacity for recovery, having survived a plane crash which killed pilot Patrick Mackey in 2000, recovered from a high-profile split with powerful owner Sheikh Mohammed in 2012, and a six-month ban after testing positive for cocaine.
Dettori’s British goodbye came at the course where he claimed his ‘Magnificent Seven’ in 1996 – all seven winners on the card at odds of 25,000-1. Aside from the longevity and partnerships with equine greats such as Dubai Millennium, Golden Horn, Stradivarius and Enable, he has had many chapters in his racing story that have felt like a movie plot. Champion. Plane crash. Success. Drugs ban. Renaissance.
Dettori’s final ride in Britain was a winning one with an inspired last-to-first victory on King Of Steel in the Champion Stakes. “Oh, Frankie Dettori, Oh Frankie Dettori”, rang out from the stand as he saluted spectators. There was more to come. Guiding 3-1 favourite King Of Steel to beat Via Sestina in the day’s feature race, he twice treated racegoers to his signature flying dismount.
With horse racing the second biggest spectator sport in Britain behind football, there are few sports personalities who have been seen live by so many people over the last four decades, and he had one more chance to milk the applause. No-one in racing can make the crowd crackle like Frankie. Whether it’s punching the air, jumping through the air, kissing his horse, kissing the camera or blowing kisses to spectators.
Dettori nearly had a treble – just beaten into second in the Champions Sprint Stakes on favourite Kinross by 40-1 outsider Art Power, ridden by David Allan for trainer Tim Easterby. He was fifth on Free Wind in the Champion Fillies and Mares Stakes, as 22-1 shot Poptronic won under Sam James for trainer Karl Burke. And he finished 10th with Chaldean in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes where French challenger Big Rock was an impressive six-length winner.
John Gosden, a mentor who trains Trawlerman with son Thady, said: “When he’s at his peak, there’s no greater, and he lets the crowd carry him. He operates on that enormous energy. He’s a fabulous talent but Alex Ferguson would’ve found him hard to manage at times.”
Actual royalty was on hand with racing royalty as Queen Camilla watched a new sculpture of Dettori on horseback being unveiled. He must be good – this is the second statue of him at the Berkshire course. You could have forgiven a few tears, but Dettori said: “I’m too happy to cry.”
Dettori will head for races in the United States, Melbourne and Hong Kong before an extended stint based in the United States from the start of next year. Bookmakers make him an odds-on shot to be back at Ascot for the Royal meeting next year.