Frankie Dettori has delivered the first consignment of 1,000 bottles of wellness hydration drink iPRO to Newmarket Hospital, as the three-times champion jockey tries to support the NHS in the battle against coronavirus.
Dettori, who is a shareholder in iPRO, is planning further donations over the coming weeks as he keeps busy pending the restart of racing.
The Italian admits it has been a trying few weeks, with his mother and sister both living in or around Milan, which is the capital of the heavily hit Lombardy region in Italy.
He said: “We are going to deliver 100,000 bottles in total, although obviously not all at once.
“We have started with Newmarket Hospital, they are doing coronavirus testing at the moment, but we will also be sending much needed drinks to multiple NHS hospital sites across the UK over the coming weeks.
“It’s been a tough time for everyone. My mum lives half an hour from Milan and my sister lives in Milan, with northern Italy having been the epicentre and having the highest death toll in Europe.
“My mum had pneumonia 10 years ago, so if she got this virus, there’s a good chance she might not make it. It’s been a scary time and all I can do is hope and pray.”
Sue Smith, head of fundraising at My WiSH Charity, which supports West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, was delighted by the donation for staff.
She said: “Frankie is a wonderful ambassador for My WiSH Charity and has worked with us previously to help raise £500,000 for a cardiac centre at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.
“It’s always a pleasure to see him and we are so pleased to welcome his support at his local hospital in Newmarket.
“Our staff are certainly feeling the effects of wearing PPE while they care for patients so this kind donation of iPRO will be amazing and greatly appreciated.”
A spokesperson at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said: “We’ve been encouraging all our staff, especially those wearing PPE to care for our COVID-19 patients, to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
“It helps our clinicians and nursing staff to stay focussed but also to look after their own well-being in these pressured times.
“Dehydration is a recognised risk of prolonged periods wearing all PPE, so it’s important NHS staff all take extra care at this time to keep hydrated.
“As such this is a fitting donation to our community hospital, and we appreciate the kind gesture.”
While Dettori has been focused on his philanthropic activities in recent weeks, helping to raise £250,000 for NHS charities as part of Equestrian Relief, the possibility of a return to racing is also firmly on his radar.
There has been no action in Britain since March 17, when meetings took place behind closed doors at Wetherby and Taunton.
The British Horseracing Authority has been formulating plans for a resumption, but must wait to be given the all-clear from the Government to restart the sport and Dettori is anticipating a tough spell for the industry.
He said: “Racing is pretty much funded by sponsors, attendances and betting turnover and none of those three things are happening at the moment, so when racing does return, you would think there will be a substantial drop in prize-money.
“Racing will definitely by affected – while it’s an industry, there are plenty of people that have horses as a hobby and I think there will be hard times for a period to come.”
Some nations have been continuing to race under strict protocols and Dettori is taking heart from that.
He said: “I’m looking at Australia, Hong Kong and Florida where they are racing behind closed doors. It is possible and we aren’t the same as football and rugby as we aren’t a contact sport.
“We can still be a metre or more away from each other, so there’s a chance we can start behind closed doors. The Government reviews the lockdown next week, so we will have to see if there is any relaxation on the rules and we will know more then.”
The BHA has already outlined some of the measures it is planning for the return of racing, with a phased approach involving restricted field sizes and only senior jockeys allowed to ride in the initial stages.
No spectators will be permitted before at least the beginning of June, with Royal Ascot already announcing a behind-closed-doors policy, while the first four Classics – the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, Oaks and Derby – have been pushed back in the calendar.
Dettori feels it is crucial to the breed to ensure those key races are contested and while he would prefer the Derby to remain at Epsom, he is open to the idea of an alternate venue if circumstances dictate.
He explained: “They had the Derby at Newmarket during the Second World War and I think the Epsom Downs are public grounds, so it might be hard to keep people away. I think that was the worry.
“Personally, I would prefer the Derby to be at Epsom. The most important thing though is to have the Classics – it doesn’t matter if they’re a month or six weeks later.
“We have to protect this three-year-old generation as we are the custodians of the thoroughbred breed.
“It will be odd to have Royal Ascot behind closed doors, though.”
Despite there being no on-course action, life continues as near to normal as possible in racing stables and Dettori has been regularly riding out for John Gosden.
He said: “I rode out on Wednesday morning and the horses are well. We had a mild April so that has really brought them forward in their coats and we will be ready to start when we’re allowed.
“They may be starting in France on May 11, so that’s got to be a good thing for everybody.”
Dettori has dual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable and top stayer Stradivarius to look forward to when the season eventually gets under way.
Enable’s ultimate target is an unprecedented Arc hat-trick at ParisLongchamp in October, while Stradivarius bagged a £1million bonus for the second successive year in 2019 in claiming the Yorkshire Cup, the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, the Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup at York.
Dettori reports his star mounts to be in fine heart and believes the delayed start to the season will not trouble either runner unduly.
He said: “I saw Enable on Wednesday morning, she looks good and fresh, and I rode Stradivarius last week and he was in good form.
“The situation doesn’t really affect them as their campaigns are really from summer through to the autumn, so they’re not really going to miss out on too much.
“It’s more of an issue for the three-year-olds, with the Guineas and the Derby so important. Fingers crossed, we will know more after May 7, but it is a testing time.”