There were plenty of changes at Royal Ascot this year – but Frankie Dettori ensured it finished with a sense of normality after riding a 150-1 treble to end the meeting as leading rider once again.
Despite this year’s event taking place behind closed doors, it failed to stop the man who thrives in front a crowd from performing heroics on the track in front of near-empty stands to secure six winners and lift the title on countback from Jim Crowley.
After riding just one winner in the opening two days, it looked as though he faced a tall order in defending the crown he secured last year earlier for the first time since 2004. But writing off Dettori at the Royal meeting is a dangerous thing to do, and so it proved.
Having partnered Stradivarius to an emphatic third Gold Cup success on Thursday, the ever-popular Italian then celebrated his 70th winner at the fixture aboard stablemate Fanny Logan in the Hardwicke Stakes 24 hours later, to put him back in contention for the crown.
Still needing something special, the three-times champion jockey came up with the goods, steering the Wesley Ward-trained Campanelle to Queen Mary glory before gaining a first Coronation Stakes success aboard Jessica Harrington’s Alpine Star, ahead of steering Palace Pier to victory for John Gosden in the St James’s Palace Stakes.
He said: “It’s amazing. I achieved a lot of things this week. I achieved my 70th winner at the meeting and that elusive dream – my last Group One winner at Ascot, a Coronation Stakes. I missed the buzz of the crowd, but I still did what I had to do. What can you say, me and Ascot are like bacon and eggs!
“Everyone goes to Ascot and they open the papers and they see me, Ryan Moore, William Buick and Jim Crowley all having six or seven great rides, but you still have to win on them.
“It was great to ride a winner for my good friend Wesley Ward, who is a great supporter of Ascot. It was amazing to win a Coronation for the Niarchos family and Jessica Harrington and then Palace Pier put in amazing performance to show what a good horse he is.
“The only thing I’m kicking myself in the shin for is that I could have won the Diamond Jubilee on Sceptical, but I kicked a little bit too far out on that sticky ground.
“I’ve already told Denis Hogan though that I would love to ride him in the July Cup as he will have a leading chance.”
When it comes to standout performances, however, there is one that ranks above everything else in the eyes of Dettori – that of the imperious Stradivarius.
He said: “I don’t think you will ever see a performance like that in the Gold Cup again. It was brilliant, what a horse.
“I went into the meeting thinking he was my best ride. He was the ride I had the most pressure on, but after that win I was much more relaxed. He is still one behind Yeats, but only three horses have now won the Gold Cup three times. Hopefully if Bjorn (Nielsen, owner) fancies it we will try again next year.”
Dettori was planning to keep the celebrations relatively low-key before getting ready to recharge his batteries for more big rides in the coming weeks.
He said: “I’m going to go home and have a glass of wine with my wife. I’m very happy and excited, but I’m exhausted. I’ve had a lot of pressure rides and it has been full on riding for the best owners and trainers. It’s been exciting and now I’m ready to have a good sleep!”
Gosden, who like Dettori ended the meeting with six winners to lift the top trainer crown, was quick to thank the work behind the scenes of his staff at his Clarehaven Stables base in Newmarket for helping to exceed his expectations on the track.
He said: “I was hopeful for three, maybe four winners, so six is way beyond expectations. You are hopeful coming in here, but it is very competitive. You never think and say I’m going to win as there is a banana skin around every corner.
“Full marks to my staff through lockdown. They’ve all come into work every day and no one has missed anything. They had the option to stay at home and be furloughed, but none did. They all wanted to come in and be with the horses, so it is down to my staff.”
While also celebrating Group One glory with Palace Pier and Lord North in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, like Dettori it was the victory for Stradivarius that put the icing on the cake for Gosden.
He said: “Stradivarius has to be the highlight. He was a bit of an exhibitionist in the pre-parade ring, then he walked in here and he was a cool dude and he ran his race like the cool horse he is. I promise you he is a better horse on faster ground. What he did was to me just a bit out of the ordinary to do it in that ground.”
As much of a success for Gosden was seeing the meeting taking place, albeit in vastly different circumstances.
Gosden said: “It is a wonderful achievement for British racing to do the great Newmarket meeting with the Guineas, then to come on and do this. It is a great testament to how we can get our act together. We have done it safely, behind closed doors, bio-secure. We like criticising ourselves, but we should be proud of ourselves over this one.”
Echoing the thoughts of Gosden was Ascot’s director of racing and public affairs, Nick Smith, who hailed the meeting a success.
Smith said: “We are very pleased. It has been very strange, but come the end of the week there is almost a sense of normality. Let’s hope next year we can get back to normal, but we are pleased we managed to deliver it.
“The jockeys, led by the master Frankie, played their part for the television audiences at home as it must have been extremely difficult at times.
“It was a week where everyone pulled together to make Britain’s showcase Flat meeting as good as it possibly could be.”