Reaching milestones has been a common theme throughout the distinguished career of Frankie Dettori, and the world’s most famous jockey celebrates another today by turning 50.
Since arriving in Newmarket in 1985 as a 14-year-old unable to speak the language, the popular Italian has carved out a career few in the sport can come close to matching – and even he could not have imagined.
But though Dettori can now look back fondly on many magical moments, had it not been for his first employer, and fellow countryman, Luca Cumani, the career he has gone on to enjoy may never have come to fruition.
He said: “To be honest the first three months in Newmarket I hated it. The weather was rubbish and the food was disgusting.
“My father persuaded me to stay and Luca saw something in me and the rest is history really. It was all worthwhile in the end.
“It’s unreal what I’ve achieved since.”
It was with Cumani that Dettori would celebrate his first British victory aboard Lizzy Hare at Goodwood on June 9, 1987, along with being crowned champion apprentice in 1989 and landing a first Group One through Markofdistinction in the 1990 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
The pair also won at the Breeders’ Cup with Barathea, and Dettori added: “Luca was one of my first teachers. He was very thorough and he taught me a lot. He was very strict, but in a good way.
“He was a big influence, he moulded me well from the beginning.
“Eight of my tender years, which are probably the most important part of your career, were spent with him and they were great times.”
Momentous success has followed all around the world – but for all that Dettori has achieved, he acknowledges his exploits over the past four years aboard the John Gosden-trained 11-time Group One winner Enable will take some beating.
He said: “Just like Tom Queally is remembered as Frankel’s jockey, I will almost certainly be more remembered for her and what she did in winning the amount of Group Ones she did more than anything I’ve done on any other horse.
“It was a shame she couldn’t win a record third Arc this year, but that should not take anything away from the fantastic career she had. She was the ultimate queen of the Turf.”
Dettori has again proved this year that while now among the elder statesman of the weighing room he can still mix it with the best, as his enduring relationship with Gosden continues unabated.
He said: “I’ve ridden plenty of Group One winners this year and ended up being leading rider at Royal Ascot again and that was a great time.
“Stradivarius was the undoubted highlight. What a horse to win three Ascot Gold Cups. That was his best performance. It looked like he jumped in at the bend with fresh legs.
“It was an amazing day for everyone and he will go down as one of the great stayers when he retires.”
The subject of retirement is one that Dettori has played down in recent years – and judging by his current levels of enthusiasm for the sport it would appear the sight of him performing his trademark flying dismount is unlikely to stop any time soon.
He said: “Look, I’d love to win a Melbourne Cup and being a Newmarket boy the only Group One in England I’ve not won is the July Cup, so I would love to tick that off the list before I retire.
“I really don’t know when I will retire, as I feel good and I’m still competitive and I ride for a great stable. I want to go on for as long as I can, that is my dream.”
Lavish celebrations might normally be the order of the day to commemorate such an occasion – but with the current restrictions Dettori will mark his birthday spending time with those closest to him.
“I’ve got to pretend I’m going to be 49 again I can’t have a party. I will be 49 again this year then I will have a party next year for my 50th!
“I’m going to take my family down to London and have a nice family dinner, cut the cake there and celebrate it that way instead.”
:: From the Magnificent Seven, to his days with Saeed bin Suroor and the more recent glorious times with John Gosden, Frankie Dettori has enjoyed some unforgettable days in his career to date:
On his ‘Magnificent Seven’ – the day he went through the card at Ascot in 1996:
“To win seven races in a day, and be the first jockey to get there and go through the card was fantastic. It doesn’t really get much better than that, even more so as it was at Ascot.
“Winning that last race aboard Fujiyama Crest was unbelievable and the atmosphere was electric afterwards. You couldn’t have made it up.”
On his first Derby win in 2007, which came at the 15th attempt:
“Victory in the Derby on Authorized was special as it was the last British Classic I had to win. It did go through my mind that I might never win the race.
“When you start as a professional you want to conquer your sport. It was the last piece of the jigsaw that was missing.
“I felt not only a great sense of relief, but pride as I was one of only a few jockeys to have won every single Classic, not many can say that.
“I probably didn’t get to enjoy the day as much as when I won the race on Golden Horn, but it was still very special.”
On his time riding for Saeed bin Suroor, which included Dubai World Cup glory aboard Dubai Millennium:
“I had 18 years with Saeed. I won over 100 Group Ones for him and we had some amazing horses go through our hands.
“Dubai Millennium was a special horse and when you rode him he was a beast, especially that night in the 2000 Dubai World Cup.
“Lammtarra was my first Arc winner in 1995 and there are the likes of Fantastic Light, Daylami, Sakhee, Cape Verde and Mark Of Esteem. Where do you draw the line.
“I’ve got all the pictures and newspaper reports from that time as it was a big part of my life I will never forget.”
On reuniting with John Gosden in 2014:
“When I went to John’s first time he was like a father figure, as I was only 22 at the time. When I came back over 20 years later he was more like my old mate.
“If you look at the last five or six years since Golden Horn won the Derby in 2015, what haven’t we won together?
“The horses we have had have been amazing and long may it continue. We have this connection that I don’t have with anybody else and I can’t quite explain what it is, but the results speak for themselves. He is more than just a great trainer, but a great friend.”
On plans for the next few months:
“Apart from Enable most of John’s good horses stayed in training, which is great news It is my off-season now and it is my time to chill out so I’m not really thinking too much about the Flat season.
“We will do Christmas and New Year then regroup. I will probably head to the Middle East. I think Dubai is a good strategic place. I will do a bit of riding in Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
“There is a lot going on early in the year.”