Frankie Dettori has plenty of competition snapping at his heels – but with more personal records broken, he proved more than once this year he is still the man for the big occasion.
A personal-best total of 19 Group One winners in 2019 confirmed the popular Italian – who recently turned 49 – remains one of the best in the business, despite being in the twilight of his glittering career.
While Dettori continues to light up racecourses across the world, he acknowledges his continued position among the weighing-room elite is down to his boss, and close friend, John Gosden.
Dettori said: “I thought 2015 was good, with Golden Horn, and last year was amazing – and I can’t believe I bettered last year. I couldn’t have wished for a better year in my life.
“I’m very lucky that I work for John. He is an unbelievable trainer to have the horses peaking at their best all year round.
“It is an amazing team, and I love to work with them. We are blessed with some beautiful horses and owners. It is a joy to go to work in the mornings – I have a spring in my step.
“I drive down the Bury Road and turn left into Clarehaven Stables, knowing what I have waiting for me there – like Enable, Stradivarius, Star Catcher and Logican.”
For all the success Dettori enjoyed this year, disappointment came when Enable was beaten in her bid for a record-breaking third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe -while he again found the Melbourne Cup elusive, finishing second aboard Master Of Reality, before being demoted to fourth.
Dettori said: “We tried to do something no horse has ever done with Enable. We came so close, but unfortunately it rained two days non stop at Longchamp – and that could have been the difference between winning and losing. She was pretty amazing in defeat.
“The other one was the Melbourne Cup, because I’ve never won it. I rode for my good friend Lloyd Williams – who has been trying to make me win it for the last 25 years – and I was there everywhere bar the winning post.
“Winning the Melbourne Cup would mean a lot to me, because it is one of the big races missing on my CV, but I will get another go next year.”
There may have been no historic third Arc for Enable, but the three-time champion jockey points to the victory of Flat racing’s poster girl over Crystal Ocean in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes as his highlight from the past 12 months.
He said: “In all 30 years of my career, I don’t think I have had a race like it. I had an amazing battle with Fantastic Light and Galileo in Ireland – and then there was Ouija Board at Goodwood – but this one meant a lot more.
“It was on the biggest stage at Ascot, with the best two horses in the world. Two horses make a race – so full credit to Crystal Ocean, because he put in an amazing effort.
“Everything went wrong for me – I had a bad draw and I was stuck wide. It just showed what a champion racemare she is, in that she can do it in every which way. It was very emotional as well.”
In a year when the big moments have not been in short supply, Dettori – who has recently enjoyed stints riding in Japan and Hong Kong – selected two more magical occasions that helped to make it a campaign to remember.
He added: “Another highlight would be riding the first four winners on the Thursday of Royal Ascot. I made the bookmaking world tremble again.
“To have winners at Royal Ascot is amazing. But to have that four-timer, including the Gold Cup in front of the biggest crowd, it doesn’t get much better than that.
“I would say Too Darn Hot in the Sussex Stakes would be the other highlight. He was an amazing two-year-old -(then) things didn’t fall right with injuries, but then he got it all together for the Sussex. It gave me great satisfaction – and the horse deserved that.”
Racing is full of surprise packages, and the rise of Star Catcher from Newbury maiden winner to Irish Classic heroine in less than six months was exactly that.
Dettori said: “I think Star Catcher was the big surprise. She came into the season winning a maiden at Newbury, then got beaten in a Listed race there.
“I always felt she had loads of potential, and John and (owner) Mr Oppenheimer decided to give her time and develop – and then boom, she won the Ribblesdale, Irish Oaks, Vermeille and ended up winning the Fillies and Mares at Ascot.”
Now at an age when most professional sports stars have retired and taken up other careers in the sport they made their name, for Dettori there is no desire to call it a day – and his hunger for victory is as strong as it has ever been.
He added: “The pressure is great, but I love it. It is intense and full on – and you are under the microscope, and the world is watching you. I think I need that to get the best out of me.
“At the moment I think I’m doing OK, so there is no plan of stopping any time soon, especially when I am with the best stable.
“The main thing for Stradivarius next year will be the Gold Cup; for Enable it will be the Arc and trying to get that unprecedented third victory in the race.
“For now I just want to sit back, reflect and enjoy this year and relax a bit before it is full on again in March.”