Racing won’t stop when Frankie Dettori finally hangs up his boots, but it will miss the sense of theatre that seems to follow him around from one showpiece meeting to the next. It was not just what he did at Churchill Downs on Saturday that made it a Breeders’ Cup to remember, it was the way that he did it: with a flourish, and what felt almost like a knowing wink to his audience.
A jockey’s job is, in essence, quite simple: get your horses from start to finish as quickly as possible and hope that it’s the best one in the race. The difficulty, of course, arises when there are a dozen other jockeys trying to do exactly the same thing, and half a second is equal to two-and-a-half lengths. ow within sight of his 50th birthday, Frankie Dettori can still make all the difference.
Dettori knew the path he wanted to take on rain-softened turf at Churchill, and he made sure he grabbed it both on Enable, in the Turf, and Expert Eye, in the Mile. Neither horse had a trouble-free passage and both were struggling to go through the gears on the ground, but calmly, patiently, Dettori found a route towards the lead on the final turn and then delivered the knockout punch.
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Expert Eye’s win was the most visually striking, because the leaders were stopping and Dettori, with his usual impeccable timing, was there to make them pay. Enable, the dual Arc winner, was the best horse in the race and an odds-on favourite, but her historic win in the Turf, the first at a Breeders’ Cup by the same year’s Arc winner, was only possible because her rider’s decisions and instinct over the first 10 furlongs put her in position to make her class count.
Dettori’s career could have gone either way after he parted company with Godolphin in 2012 and was then banned for six months for a failed drugs test. It is a testament to his determination and competitive instincts that he is back at the summit, and as essential a player in the turf’s grandest events as he was in Godolphin blue.
There will, of course, always be some parts that even Dettori cannot reach. The taxi driver who picked me up from Churchill Downs on Saturday evening, was interested in the exchange rate from dollars to the pound. Why? Because he’d had a passenger in his cab a couple of days earlier who was out of dollars, and had tipped him in sterling instead. “He said he was a jockey who was riding on Saturday,” he said. “A horse called Enable. Frankie someone.”
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