The best-laid plans, as racing people know only too well, can often go awry, but Frankie Dettori’s decision to set out an 11-month schedule for his farewell tour next year should mean that he will be appearing at a racecourse near you at least one more time before he finally hangs up his boots. It has been one of the greatest riding careers of them all, and we may never see another jockey with Dettori’s unique combination of gifts, both in and out of the saddle, which made him a household name.
Many smaller tracks will be hoping against hope that Dettori drops by at some point next year, when his presence for even a single ride could conceivably put an extra 1,000 on the gate. And while he has scarcely ridden at all on Mondays or Tuesdays in recent years, the ticking clock might yet persuade Dettori to revisit some of our lesser venues, the likes of Carlisle, where he has one win from 18 rides over his long career, Musselburgh (three from 20) or even Ffos Las, the only current British track where Dettori has yet to ride a winner, albeit from just three attempts.
Following his win on Kinross in the Champions Sprint in October, there are also only two current Group One races in the British calendar that Dettori has yet to win as a Group One event.
We can probably give him the Sun Chariot Stakes, as he landed it on Red Slippers as long ago as 1992, but Dettori has not won it since it was promoted to Group One status in 2004 – understandably, perhaps, as he is generally riding at the first day of the Arc meeting at Longchamp that afternoon. The fact that he does not – yet – have a July Cup on his CV, though, is just one of those bizarre quirks that add to racing’s fascination.
Dettori is flying to California imminently for a 10-week stint at Santa Anita, where he learned many lessons about pace and track-craft during four winter trips in the 1980s, with his first rides likely to be on Boxing Day.
When he arrives back in Britain, perhaps via the Dubai World Cup in late March, the hoopla will begin in earnest and is likely to remain the dominant theme of the season from first to last.
The GOAT debate is probably best left until Dettori has finally departed the stage, but he must at least be in the discussion. It is never easy to compare horses from different eras, never mind their riders, but in terms of his horsemanship, tactical brilliance, longevity and consistency, Dettori has no equals among current riders and very few among those of the past.
Fred Archer’s dominance was absolute in 13 championship-winning seasons from 1874 before his tragic death at the age of just 29. Sir Gordon Richards, meanwhile, was champion jockey a record 26 times, and his seasonal total of 269 winners in 1947 – still a staggering, barely credible achievement – is unlikely to ever be surpassed.
The other obvious contender is Lester Piggott, who died earlier this year, and there are several stats that still put the 11-times champion a head in front. Dettori has one more chance to add to his 77 winners at Royal Ascot, but he could win all 35 races next June and still be shy of Piggott’s remarkable 116 victories at the Royal meeting, a record that was compiled when there were just 24 races to aim at. Piggott’s nine Derby wins are, like the Richards 269, a record that no one is likely to approach, never mind equal, for decades to come.
We will all have our favourite Dettori moment, from the Magnificent Seven in 1996 to his long-awaited first Derby on Authorized in 2007 or perhaps the brilliant tactical success on Golden Horn in the Arc in 2017.
For me, nothing will ever quite match the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic, when the commentator gave a huge shout to Curlin, the defending champion, around the home turn – “look at Curlin go, is this believable?” – and completely failed to notice Dettori on Raven’s Pass in his slipstream, just waiting for the right moment to press the button.
It was textbook Frankie, executed to perfection by the most bankable big-race rider on the planet for more than a quarter of a century, and in an age of increasing fierce international competition. It is going to be very odd without him.
Gold Cup favourite stays bang on course
Galopin Des Champs cemented his position at the top of the betting for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup with a straightforward defeat of Fakir D’Oudairies, a multiple Grade One winner, in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on Monday.
Paul Townend adopted more patient tactics on Galopin Des Champs than has often been the case in the past and Willie Mullins’s six-year-old travelled well throughout before moving alongside the leader three out and then quickening clear on the run to the last.
Galopin Des Champs was 13 lengths clear at the line and was swiftly cut to a top price of 2-1 (from 11-4) for the Gold Cup on 17 March.
“I was really happy when they went by the winning post [first time] to see a loop in Paul’s reins, that’s a big improvement for him,” Mullins said. “When Paul wanted a big jump, he gave it to him, and when he wanted a few quick ones, he did that too.
“He’s a Gold Cup horse, that’s where he is going. I am most pleased about the way he settled, the way he jumped, and the way he skipped away from a proven Grade 1 winner.”
Mullins and Townend were back in the winner’s enclosure half an hour later when Appreciate It, the easy winner of the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2021, made a successful debut over fences in the card’s Beginners’ Chase.
The long odds-on favourite was briefly joined by Top Bandit at the top of the home straight but had little trouble pulling seven lengths clear at the post.
“He was very idle in front and Jack Kennedy [on Top Bandit] kept him honest over the last couple,” Mullins said. “I couldn’t ask for any better.”
Appreciate It was cut to 5-1 second-favourite for the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival, behind Nicky Henderson’s Jonbon, at 11-8.