EVEN now, Frankie Dettori is still thanked by well-wishers for changing their lives when he rode his ‘magnificent seven’ winners at Ascot 20 years ago.
So they should. Triumphing in all seven races, at combined odds of 25,051-1, bankrupted bookmakers and cost the betting industry a reputed £30m. At least six punters won over £150,000 each from multiple bets.
To put this achievement into context, Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City were just 5,000-1 to win last season’s Premier League.
Let it be remembered, this was no ordinary raceday – the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, won by Sheikh Mohammed’s top miler Mark Of Esteem, was a Group One race worth £200,000 to the victor.
To win one race would have been a good day’s work. To win three would have been special. To win six was just fanciful.
To win a seventh, on a horse as mulish as Fujiyama Crest, was so unlikely that ‘voice of racing’ Sir Peter O’Sullevan – the shrewdest judge of all – had long vacated his vantage point and stand-in commentator John Hanmer called the final three contests as the broadcaster took the then unprecedented decision to interrupt Grandstand and the football results to broadcast the dramatic denouement while the radio’s Peter Bromley feared the climax to his call would not be heard above the din.
Not even Dettori thought Fujyiama Crest, a horse which had not won for a year and which was in the grip of the handicapper’s grip, had a chance as he negotiated his way into the heaving paddock – his friend and rival Walter Swinburn had to give the Italian a quick pep talk after he confided that the horse was “hopelessly out of form”.
Other riders concurred as they witnessed Dettori, then 25, become ever more excitable with each win ahead of an otherwise mundane two-mile Gordon Carter Handicap.
Eye-witnesses to history included Bawtry trainer David Griffiths who was a fresh-faced apprentice jockey riding the David Elsworth-trained Ivor’s Flutter, a horse which had comparable odds with Fujyiama Crest in the morning before bookmakers allowed Dettori’s horse to be backed into 2-1 favouritism because they, too, believed it was a certain loser.
“Before the race, Mr Elsworth said to me ‘If you win this, you make history. It will be the super six rather than the magnificent seven’,” recalled Griffiths, whose star sprinter Take Cover remains on course for next Sunday’s Prix de l’Abbaye at Deauville after finishing third in York’s Nunthorpe Stakes.
“I remember being sat in the weighing room with John Reid, Ray Cochrane and Willie Ryan. We were all looking through the form and said ‘he can’t win this’. He had won the sixth race but I remember John and Ray saying that he can’t do it. Frankie was just mad, brilliant. He was on top of the world. He had had his fourth winner and Lindsay Charnock, who rode in the North, shouted out ‘F****** hell, you’ve had my season in a day’.”
Kevin Darley, a future champion jockey who was riding the outsider, Silently I, also recalls Dettori’s demeanour – and how he appeared totally unfazed by the growing anticipation. “He was nuts. He was running around like a banshee,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
What neither Griffiths nor Darley foresaw was Dettori, drawn widest of all in this 18-runner race, immediately tacking over to the running rail to ensure that he could control the race from the start. Instinct and adrenaline had taken over.
“I felt I had nothing to lose,” said Fujiyama Crest’s jockey. “Maybe if I had known so much money was riding on the race, I’d have panicked. It took the best part of two-and-a-half furlongs to get across to the far rail and claim the narrowest of leads. Just as we did so, Fuji briefly lost his back legs as another horse clipped his heels, but by then neither of us was in the mood for compromise. We had the lead and the rail and were not going to give them away lightly.”
So it proved – with both Griffiths, the subsequent fourth, and the unplaced Darley trying their best while also keeping an eye on the front of the race as the late Pat Eddery, then at the peak of his powers, set his mount Northern Fleet off in pursuit of the tiring Fujyiama Crest.
This was personal. Eddery, already runner-up to Dettori on two earlier occasions that day, gave everything in a remorseless ride which would have earned a lengthy whip suspension under today’s rules.
Yet still Fujiyama Crest would not yield, despite Dettori beginning to panic as he sensed Northern Fleet closing with every stage as the crowd roared.
In his autobiography, Frankie, admitted to being nerveless before the race because he had nothing to lose.
Now, he felt the pressure. “In the final 100 yards, Fuji was numb with exhaustion,” he wrote. “The weight on his back (9st 10lb) was anchoring him, the last weary strides were like a mile and he was running on empty.
“With 25 yards to go, the distance to the winning post seemed to lengthen. Keep going, keep going, for God’s sake concentrate. Fuji was almost unconscious, drawing deep on a reservoir we didn’t know he possessed. Somehow he conjured up a little bit more and was still a neck in front as he staggered over the finishing line.”
Cue pandemonium as bookmakers counted their losses while Dettori’s disbelieving father, a former rider of note, struggled to make sense of the racing results on Ceefax as his son prepared to perform his second flying dismount of the day after supposedly being forbidden by the pompous Ascot authorities because of “safety reasons”. Thankfully, racing’s showman was deaf to these urgings.
However Dettori’s exuberance – he quipped ‘is there any more racing for me? I’m just warming up.’ – masked the torment that he would later suffer as he became overwhelmed by the attention and well-wishers. The day ended with Dettori and his future wife Catherine falling out at a party, the rider was exhausted, and going home in a sulk. It is why he told The Yorkshire Post last year that his successes on 2015 Epsom Derby winner Golden Horn meant more to him – he had the maturity to appreciate these wins.
Meanwhile, in 16 subsequent starts on the Flat and over hurdles, Fujiyama Crest won just once – a very low-grade race at Nottingham – before Dettori purchased the gelding so he could give a deserved retirement to the horse that made him.
Perhaps the most profound point was made by the aforementioned Kevin Darley who said the Italian rode from a different planet on September 28, 1996. “Quite honestly, he was in that frame of mind that he would have won the last race if he was riding a rusty rocking horse,” he added. For this, many punters – and racing – will always be in Frankie Dettori’s debt.
How Dettori finished in seventh heaven
THIS is how the Yorkshire Post reported Frankie Dettori’s magnificent seven winners at Ascot on September 28, 1996.
2.00 – Wall Street (2-1f): Frankie Dettori made all on the Godolphin colt to repel Salmon Ladder by a half a length.
2.35 – Diffident (12-1): After sitting off the pace, Dettori got the vital first run to deny the unlucky-in-running Lucayan Prince by a short head.
3.20 – Mark Of Esteem (100-30): Dettori held his mount up until the final furlong before launching a run to sweep past Bosra Sham in the final 100 yards.
3.55 – Decorated Hero (7-1): After backing the John Gosden-trained top-weight down from 12-1 to 7-1, Dettori’s followers were delighted to see him burst clear in the final furlong to deny Kayyee.
4.30 – Fatefully (7-4f): The fourth of the Godolphin-trained quartet and having taken the lead a furlong out, the Private Account filly held on for a neck success.
5.00 – Lochangel (5-4jf): Despite being told by trainer Ian Balding to sit in on the filly, Dettori made all on the half-sister to Lochsong to set up a grand finale.
5.35 – Fujiyama Crest (2-1f): Agitated bookies hedge all bets forcing Michael Stoute’s charge to 2-1 from 12-1 before Frankie made all on the four-year-old to seal the historic feat.