By Jon Lees
Frankie Dettori has bagged the mount on one of the leading international runners at Royal Ascot after agreeing to partner top US turf sprinter Imprimis in the King’s Stand Stakes.
Dettori’s commitment to the Grade Two-winning five-year-old is being regarded as a massive vote of confidence by trainer Joe Orseno, who has never previously visited Britain.
Florida-based Orseno, 63, has trained more than 1,800 winners during a 42-year training career – and his big-race haul includes three Breeders’ Cup contests and a Preakness Stakes.
Imprimis defeated last year’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes third Bound For Nowhere when landing the Grade Two Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland last time out.
He is owned by Sam Ross and Mike Hall, who work in the oil and fracking industry in West Virginia and race as Breeze Easy Llc – whose colours were carried to Royal Ascot victory 12 months ago by Shang Shang Shang in the Norfolk Stakes.
“Last year the owners came over with another horse – they had some success and had such a great time they said they’d like to go back,” said Orseno.
“My horse was coming off a long lay-off, so we brought him back, ran him in a prep race for the Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland – and he won both races.
“We’re very excited at taking this on.
“It’s something they really wanted to do, and I just thought for the Breeders’ Cup it could be a good fit instead of staying in the States with him and shipping him all over.”
The Shakertown provided another example to Orseno that Imprimis can handle most scenarios.
“That day my horse stumbled out of the gate at Keeneland, kind of fell on his head and was way further back than he should have been – but he circled the field and ran down Bound For Nowhere.
“We know Bound For Nowhere is a good horse, who was competitive at Ascot last year, so it made us feel better about going over. Also being able to get Frankie Dettori on tells me he believes in the horse to accept the mount.
”I think this is the perfect horse to try this with. He can do just about anything. He could break and sit on or near the lead – he can come from off the pace and make one good run.
“The only thing I will tell Frankie is ‘good luck’. I would never give him instructions.
Orseno is not concerned about conditions, either.
“Imprimis handles a very soft turf course,” he added.
“When he won at Pimlico last year it poured so much they never should have run the race on grass. They were soaking way down to their knees – and he ran them down, looking like a good horse to win it.
“He handles a hard turf that he got at Gulfstream, and ran very fast fractions and won drawing away.
“I know it’s a little incline at the end of the race – which is why I opted for the five-furlong King’s Stand instead of the Diamond Jubilee. I thought it could fit him better and he could give 100 per cent of everything he had.”
Imprimis was partnered to his two latest wins by Paco Lopez, who has not been in action since last month when he was hit with a 60-day ban (reduced to 30 on appeal) for continuous careless riding.
However, Dettori was fist choice in any event.
Orseno added: “The truth is we spoke about it at length, about having a rider that knows the course.
“My first preference was Frankie. I don’t think we’d have brought Paco over anyway, because we wanted somebody who was familiar with how to ride that course.”
Imprimis will have his final gallop at Gulfstream Park this weekend and is set to fly to England on June 2, and will board at Manton.
Orseno has 35 horses and has trained such as Macho Uno (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile), Golden Missile (Pimlico Special and Stephen Foster), Perfect Sting (Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf) and Red Bullet – who shocked the odds-on Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus in the 2000 Preakness.
“I go into every race thinking I belong in there and have a shot,” he said.
“The odds might say it’s an upset – but the day we won the Preakness, I totally expected to win that race. My horse was training so well.
“Perfect Sting was in a very tough race, and the Europeans were the favourites, but she brought her A-game.
“It’s about having your horse ready for a particular day – and right now Imprimis is on top of his game. I wish the race was tomorrow.”