Goodwood: Dettori wants to be Darling of the Downs again

The Goodwood crowd always respond to Frankie Dettori, and Frankie Dettori always responds to the Goodwood crowd.

Tuesday, 28th July 2015, 8:00 am
Frankie Dettori at Goodwood / Picture by Chris Hatton

They have a mutual love and respect for each other that you’d struggle to replicate with any other racecourse and jockey.

Maybe, for Dettori, that’s because he had his first winner in this country on the South Downs 28 long years ago.

Maybe, for race-goers, it’s because Dettori always has a smile and time for a photo or autograph – and can be relied upon to perform his flying dismount if he wins a big race.

He’s the most recognisable face in the weighing room and nowhere, arguably, does he get more adulation than at Goodwood, where the crowd love a bit of showbiz mixed in with their racing.

This year, the cheers that greet Dettori when he comes out to race – and, more pertinently, if, or should that be when, he rides a winner – might be that little bit louder.

For he arrives at the Qatar Goodwood Festival – which starts today (Tuesday) – as the current Derby champion and in the form of his life, three years after it looked like his days in the saddle might be coming to an end.

Dettori is now riding for Sheikh Joaan, who is at the forefront of the Qatari sponsorship deal that has taken the festival to a new level, and while Dettori would love any win during the week, there’s one of the prominent contests he’d particularly like to win – the only top-level Glorious race he has yet to chalk off.

When I gently remind him a victory in the Stewards’ Cup is not among the remarkable 58 Glorious Goodwood winners behind him in his near three decades of riding (that’s out of a grand total 183 winners in total at the course), he says: “I got beaten by a short head in the Stewards’ Cup once. But yes I’ve won all the other big races there.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’d love to win it.

“I might have a chance if I ride Magical Memory, the horse of Charlie Hills who I won on in the big handicap at Newmarket the other week.

“It’s a 30-runner cavalry charge. You have to be drawn on the right side. But if I could win it, that would be extra special because then I would have done the lot – the full set.”

Dettori reflects on some of the other top-level festival successes: “I’ve won the Sussex Stakes four times but I’ll tell you a horse that won a big race really easily – Kayf Tara in the Goodwood Cup (in 1999).

“That sticks in my mind – it was a comfortable win on a good horse. Then I won the Goodwood Cup again six years ago on Schiaparelli.

“But it’s a bit like Ascot – every race you win at Goodwood is important.

“And then there was the win on Ouija Board in the Nassau (in 2006), just beating Alexander Goldrun. People still talk about that now. What a great race.

“I would say that was probably my most memorable. There was a lot at stake. She was a very good filly and it was fantastic.”

Such is his list of festival honours, we don’t even have time to discuss his four Gordon Stakes victories or the two in the King George, one in the Lennox, one in the Richmond, one in the Thoroughbred or two in the Vintage Stakes.

It’s not that they don’t matter, just that the popular Italian has had too many days in the Sussex sun to remember all at once.

He says: “I had my first (UK) winner at Goodwood, back in 1987, on Lizzy Hare. So Goodwood has always had a special feeling for me.

“The festival itself is very big. You have Royal Ascot, you have York but in the centre of the season, you have Goodwood. It’s up there.

“And this year it’s very big. Look at the money that’s been put in by the Qatar deal. Some of the handicaps are worth more than some Group races.

“For jockeys, it (the extra prize money) makes it more competitive.

“People now know there’s so much money at stake they’re saving their horses for the meeting. Almost all the races will be run with full fields this year.

“In general they get full fields at Goodwood most years, but this year they’re even more guaranteed to get them.”

Does that add to the pressure, the weight of expectation on this particular man in the saddle?

“I do think, going to Goodwood this year, there will be extra pressure on me,” he says.

“My boss Sheikh Joaan is sponsoring the festival and we are targeting a few horses for the meeting because we want him to have some winners.

“But I thrive on pressure – it gets the best out of me.

“Goodwood was hard to ride before but now it will be extra hard with this extra money for the races.

“I am really looking forward to the festival – it is going to be a smashing meeting.

“Apart from Epsom, Goodwood is the hardest track to ride because of the undulations, draw and big fields – you can get everything right or you can get everything wrong. You have to be on your wits.

“Qatar is a force to be reckoned with – it is good for the sport and for everybody.”

Dettori loves the fact that the buzz generated by Glorious week seems to have increased in recent years. “The atmosphere and the crowd at Goodwood are superb. I would say Lord March has done a great job these past few years.

“What about when Tom Cruise went to the races last year? That would have been unheard of ten years ago.

“They have the ladies’ race, the ball, the polo; attendances are up and there’s so much going on.

“It has been boom time these past few years and full credit to Lord March and the team for a great job.

“And I want to be part of it for a good few years to come.”

Yes, you read that right – a few years. He’s 44 now but says: “I am fit and well and if I carry on in such good form why will I not be riding at 50, which is only a number.

“You are only as old as you feel.”

Dettori even refuses to rule out still doing the job when he’s 55.

Of course, winning form helps keep him in the mood to go on and on and there were times not too long ago when he certainly didn’t think he’d be riding Group 1 winners throught the summer of 2015.

“I could not have imagined at the start of the year what has happened in the past five weeks.

“To land on Golden Horn and take the Derby and then win the Diane before having a great Royal Ascot, getting my 50th success there and winning the Diamond Jubilee, then Golden Horn showed how good he is when winning the Eclipse, what can I say? I could not have foreseen it.

“Three years ago I was on the verge of retiring. But Sheikh Joaan gave me a second chance.

“Without Sheikh Joaan’s job, I would have probably carried on until the end of the season and then looked for some alternative jobs.

“Sheikh Joaan came with a good offer and his team of horses was expanding – he has brought me back to where I was a while ago.”

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