Frankie Dettori: The Living Legend
It isn’t every day that you have the opportunity to meet one of the most successful competitors to ever grace a sport, but to horseracing, Frankie Dettori is exactly that.
The man known to millions simply as ‘Frankie’ has won everything there is to win, from the Derby, to the Breeders Cup, to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe to the Dubai World Cup and everything in between. The list is endless, with many of those triumphs being repeated on multiple occasions.
However, the achievement that takes the cake, came at Ascot in 1996 on Queen Elizabeth II Stakes day, when Frankie went through the card, winning all seven races, in what was to become the worst day in British bookmaking history. A day which is now fondly remembered as the ‘Magnificent Seven.’
Speaking at an in-house event at LadbrokesCoral, Dettori said “I was so made up about equalling the record of six winners [held by Sir Gordon Richards at Chepstow in 1933 and Alec Russell at Bogside in 1957] that I headed into the seventh and final race on the card with a ‘don’t care’ attitude.
“Everyone was telling me that I was going to win again, but I told them that this horse [Fujiyama Crest] has no chance, and that he’s 12/1 for a reason.
“I remember it was a two-mile race and the stalls were in front of the grandstands. The stalls opened to a standing ovation and I headed straight to the front. We led the whole way and as we came off the turn the crowd saw we were leading, everyone was going wild and cheering.
“We reached the three-furlong pole and I decided to kick for home, but we hit the brick wall, I was tired, the horse was tired, and we just about reached the finish line beating Pat [Eddery] to cling on.”
It was a day which reportedly cost the bookmaking industry over £30m and it was ironic that the name of the Italian’s first winner was ‘Wall Street.’ Although, Dettori admitted that in the immediate aftermath of the race, he hadn’t realised the magnitude of his achievement.
“I don’t think I really realised what I achieved at the time, everybody went crazy and I didn’t realise until I came home,” he recalled.
“The following morning, I was in my underpants, and we used to get our newspapers delivered to us, so I went and opened the front door and it was about five-deep with press and paparazzi. I took the paper and slammed the door shut.
“I couldn’t believe the amount of press, but then I read the newspaper and saw that I had broken the stock market and that punters around the country had won £40m, it was unbelievable.”
In a fitted, tailored suit measured almost as impeccably as his front-running ride on Fujiyama Crest, Dettori laughed before adding: “At least it shows to the poor punters’ that sometimes stupid things like that can happen. But it goes without saying, I promise you, I’ll never do it again.”
Frankie, real name Lanfranco, has been a professional jockey for over three decades and grew up in Milan around horses with his father Gianfranco, who was a jockey in Italy himself.
However, at the age of 13, Dettori chose to leave school and headed to Newmarket, where he landed a job as a stable boy for legendary Italian trainer Luca Cumani, before riding his first winner as a 16-year-old in Turin.
“I loved riding horses and I had enough of living at home and going to school, so I decided to go to Newmarket.
“Thankfully I’ve had 30 wonderful years as a jockey, which has been due to good fortune and the lack of severe injuries. Hopefully, I can last another five years, that would be great.”
Drive and determination
Throughout his career, the Italian has had multiple Group One victories, including winning the Derby twice on board the Peter Chapple-Hyam trained Authorized in 2007 and Golden Horn in 2015 trained by John Gosden.
It is such success that provides Frankie with the drive and determination to continue racing, and for the upcoming season ahead, there are two horses which he is relishing the prospects of riding.
In general, every jockey loves every horse, but the ones you love the most are the ones that give you the best emotions.
“The best one now is Cracksman as he’s still fresh in the memory and has given me some of the biggest thrills. But it’s nerve-wracking, riding the best horses in the biggest races as you don’t want to be the one who messes it up.”
“I saw Enable this morning too and I gave her my customary packet of Polos! She looks well but it’s just light gentle prep work for now.
“Both Cracksman and Enable are the two best horses in the world at present, so it’s very exciting.”
The 47-year-old who is famously known for his flying dismount has ridden over 3,000 career winners, more than any other professional jockey currently in training. But in the earlier stages of his career, Dettori had the privilege of riding horses owned by Her Majesty The Queen.
“It was in my early years, and I was asked to get some of the horses ready for Ascot for which The Queen came to visit to see her horses.
“Before her visit I was informed of the etiquette of meeting her, I was told that you tip your hat, that you don’t talk to her until she speaks to you, and that you reply to her with ‘ma’am’ and that was about it, so I took time out to practice my bow.
“The first day of Royal Ascot she never came, the second day she asked me how the ground was, and on my best behaviour I said “The ground is good, ma’am.” The third day we had a proper conversation, and then we got to the Saturday.
“Normally, you can smell when The Queen is there, loads of people come along flying their flags, but this time, there were no people.
“So, I was with two other jockeys’ talking about cars and sex the usual things! Then as I ran towards the paddock, I completely messed up.
“The Queen was just stood there and caught me completely off-guard and as I ran by I shouted ‘How are ya!’ in a cockney accent and she just opened her arms, shrugged her shoulders and exclaimed ‘I am still here!’.
“But no, she is very sweet, and she is very lovely, and it was a great privilege to have the chance to ride for her.”
Passion still burns
Hearing Dettori speak, it is clear to see that he has been far more than a jockey, and is a huge sporting personality within Britain and across the world.
His enthusiasm, humour and charm has seen him draw a huge following from the wider public to the sport of racing who may not have enjoyed it otherwise.
It will be a huge loss for racing once he retires, but thankfully for now his passion for the game still burns within him.
And there is also Frankie’s 13-year-old son Rocco, who is currently climbing the ranks in the pony racing scene, who could even carry the heavy weight of the Italian flag in years to come.
Dettori jokingly added “According to him [Rocco] he’s already better than me! He is going the right way, but he is only 13 and he’s too busy playing video games, so we’ll have to wait and see.”