Early years with Luca Cumani helped shape Dettori into world-class talent

‘His talent, plus his will to win, has made him what he is – one of the greatest jockeys that ever lived’.

  • Tuesday 15 December
  • News
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Luca Cumani can now count his blessings he was the first trainer to recognise Frankie Dettori’s talents, though their relationship got off to a rather rocky start.

Dettori’s father, Gianfranco, sent him to Bedford House Stables in Newmarket, as Cumani was a fellow Italian and his 14-year-old son could speak no English.

When Dettori turned up on Cumani’s doorstep in 1985 it was not long before the trainer realised he had a tearaway teenager on his hands. However, it also quickly became apparent to him the fledgling rider had a special talent.

“Frankie is one of the greatest jockeys after Lester Piggott to have graced this island,” said Cumani.

“I was very lucky he started off with me. I didn’t think I was so lucky in the beginning because he was such a nightmare.

“Looking back, I consider myself lucky to have had him in his formative years. Even though he was such a devil to begin with as a teenager, he always had that talent and always had the will to win that transmitted to the horses.”

The pair formed a highly-successful relationship with Cumani picking out some of the many big-race triumphs they shared.

“There have been so many fantastic memories. The main one would be the races we won together at Ascot,” he said.

“Ascot has always been one of my favourite racecourses and so it has been for Frankie.

“A long time before his ‘Magnificent Seven’ we won many top-class races at Ascot together.

“Markofdistinction was his first Royal Ascot winner in the Queen Anne in 1990, then we had a double of Group Ones in the autumn there with Markofdistinction again (in the QEII) and Shamshir in the Fillies’ Mile.

“And of the others all over the world, let’s not forget Barathea in the (1994) Breeders’ Cup. He was a highlight of our association. It’s been fantastic.”

Cumani, who retired in 2018 after 43 years with a licence, gave his opinion on why Dettori’s career has enjoyed such a long life.

“He’s lasted so long because he hasn’t overdone it,” he said.

“And it’s like a horse – he’s sound, mentally and physically. He’s probably only chased the championship a handful of times and hasn’t worn himself out chasing championships. I think he’s had a charmed life and his genes were such that he has longevity.

“His talent, plus his will to win, has made him what he is – one of the greatest jockeys that ever lived.”

Before Dettori’s Indian summer with John Gosden, his best days in the saddle after progressing from his early grounding with Cumani were when teaming up with Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

For the nostalgists, the fact the two have linked up again in recent years on the odd occasion has been pleasing to see and has brought back memories of some great occasions.

Dettori rode many modern greats of the Turf for Bin Suroor – names such as Daylami, Dubawi, Doyen, Lammtarra, Sakhee and of course Dubai Millennium.

The latter met with just one defeat in 10 career outings, in the 1999 Derby, yet he went on to win the Prix Jacques le Marois, Dubai World Cup on dirt and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, in which he was ridden by Jerry Bailey as Dettori was recuperating from the injuries suffered in the plane crash that claimed the life of pilot Patrick Mackey in 2000.

As the two men are of a similar age, Bin Suroor felt their partnership was more like a friendship and made travelling the world an enjoyable experience.

“I’m only a couple of years older than him and we’ve always been good friends since Godolphin started 26 years ago and neither of us spoke that good English at the time,” said Bin Suroor.

“He’s a great man and a wonderful jockey – one of the best in history. He has done so many good things for racing worldwide.

“We would travel all over the world together and everyone wanted to speak to him. He always had time for them. Pictures at airports, train stations and in restaurants.

“He rode so many big winners for me and he’s still doing it all now, he’s still at the top of the tree. He is what you need for racing – people love him everywhere.

“Wherever you go, Hong Kong, Dubai, Australia, America everyone loves him.”

As it often the case with the world’s best in any sport, it has been said that the bigger the event, the better Dettori rides and Bin Suroor agrees.

“Because we are friends the winners together mean more. He thrived in the biggest races, they bring the best out of him,” he said.

“Daylami would have been our best together, we loved him and he’s my favourite horse. He won all over the world.

“I remember before the Breeders’ Cup in 1999 I told everyone before the race he could not get beaten, which was stupid really. Thankfully he won. Frankie gave him a good ride.

“He’s an amazing jockey, very rare. You can hear the crowds shouting for him, not the horses!”

Early years with Luca Cumani helped shape Dettori into world-class talent
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