FRANKIE DETTORI is as ebullient as ever as the born-again rider relaxes in the Italian sun ahead of the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor festival.
He is effusive about his surroundings – he is relaxing in Capri and enjoying calamari and wine for lunch by the beachside.
He is also exultant that the proprietors where he is staying remembered his last visit 20 years ago. Testament to his fame, few, if any, forget an encounter with Dettori.
He becomes even more engaged when the conversation turns to the new “love of his life” – superstar racehorse Enable.
Unbeaten in her last 12 starts, the magnificent mare – and her irrepressible rider – will be the star attractions at York’s headline meeting of the year.
With her versatility, determination and success all over the world, you will struggle to find her equal. I’m not saying she’s the best ever but her CV is untouchable and it’s great she is coming to York.Frankie Dettori on Enable
Hot favourites for the Darley Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday, Enable will be the highest-profile horse to run on Knavesmire since Frankel – also owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah – was imperious in 2012.
Yet, as the 48-year-old veteran contemplates the responsibility of riding such a high-profile horse, he reveals a serious side to his character which is often masked by his trademark flying dismounts and good humour for the TV cameras. “Yeah, of course,” he replies when asked by The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview if he suffers from nerves ahead of big races. “I love it, I don’t love it, but I love it.”
This might, at first glance, appear to be a rather contradictory answer but Dettori – in the form of his life after notching 12 Group One victories this summer – quickly adds this clarification as he warms to his theme.
“I would rather ride a 1-2 odds-on favourite in a Group One than a 20-1 outsider,” he says by way of explanation. “My hands are sweaty, my mouth is dry, but now I know how to channel the energy. I’ve been at it long enough.”
Even before this annus mirabilis began to gather pace, Dettori has enjoyed a remarkable career that has seen him become regarded as the most recognisable name in racing with, he ventures, only the Melbourne Cup missing from his personal roll of honour.
His longevity in the saddle is explained by a simple comparison between his statistics this year and the successes that he accrued 25 years ago when he became champion jockey for the first of three times.
Then 233 winners – from 1,377 rides – accrued £2.4m in prize money at a strike-rate of 18 per cent. Now, a quarter-of-a-century later, 45 wins from 171 rides have accumulated nearly £5.3m. His rides-to-wins ratio, now 26 per cent, has never been better in a career which began in 1988.
It is, says Dettori, recognition of how racing has changed since his early years when jockeys were, first and foremost, judged by the quantity, rather than the quality, of their winners.
“A bit of a blur,” he recalls. “It was hard work. It was a relief to do it but it took a lot out of me. Once you start, you can’t stop. You have to push yourself to the limit. When I was a young, I had to be champion jockey to get a good job.”
They were numbers that Dettori did not match when he successfully defended his title in 1995 – or become champion for a third, and final, time in 2004 after a protracted struggle with long-term rival Kieren Fallon.
It only ended on the penultimate weekend of the Flat season. With Dettori clear – and fighting fatigue – his attempts to negotiate a premature ending to the campaign in the Wolverhampton weighing room did not come to pass and he checked in at Stansted for a Sunday morning flight to Musselburgh.
Surprised not to see his rival in the airport lounge, Dettori says the plane was just about to take off when he received a text from Fallon which said “Congratulations. Good luck. I’m not coming.”
“The rotter!” exclaimed Dettori, who recalls that he drew a blank at the Scottish track to darken his mood. Yet, while he spent the bulk of his career riding for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation, he became a lost soul when the partnership ended uneasily in 2012.
Though he had a retainer with Al Shaqab Racing, the fact their horses were with multiple trainers – rather than one yard – did not always enthuse the jockey who, by his own admission, needs the right people, and horses, around him to bring out the best in him.
Here, John Gosden became Dettori’s saviour. The trainer who helped to nurture the Italian during his formative years, and curb the more immature ill-discipline, turned to the veteran in late 2014 when his then stable jockey, William Buick, joined Godolphin.
“First, I was pleased he picked up the phone,” explained the animated rider. “But it is thanks to John that I’m riding now. I don’t think many trainers would put up with their jockey riding Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We have an unique stable. I have been riding 32 years and don’t want to go to Windsor on a Monday, but it gives more opportunities to Rab Havlin. It’s not to fair to the owners if I can’t give 100 per cent at some meetings. We have a system that works and, yeah, you’re right, I haven’t been more happy.”
Dettori says every horse is treated and trained as “an individual”. He refers to the Gosden team as “family”. He feels at home with all the stable staff and, self-deprecatingly, describes himself as “the last link in the chain”. He speaks of an anticipation “driving to work” which he had not experienced for years.
It helps that this has become the pre-eminent Flat stable in Britain since Gosden and Dettori won the 2015 Derby with Golden Horn, the catalyst to the unorthodox but very successful working relationship.
While the jockey is relishing next Friday’s Lonsdale Cup when champion stayer Stradivarius will bid to win a £1m bonus for a second successive year, it is Enable who really stirs his emotions.
The Yorkshire Oaks, which she also won in 2017, will, he says, almost certainly be Enable’s final race in Britain before she bids to sign off her career with an unprecedented third successive win in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in early October.
Nine of her 12 wins have come at a Group One level and the fact they include two Arcs, and a Breeders’ Cup in America, sets her apart from other racing greats, according to Dettori.
“She has taken me to emotions that no horse has taken me,” he says. “She knows me and I know her. We are in sync. In the King George last month, I knew she was giving everything against Crystal Ocean, who is the best on ratings. A great race, one of the very best. She was responding – I didn’t need to pick up the whip. We know each other.
“With her versatility, determination and success all over the world, you will struggle to find her equal. I’m not saying she’s the best ever but her CV is untouchable and it’s great she is coming to York.
“They have done an excellent job the last 10 years. It’s an amazing track and I know the people will support her. I will be a bag of nerves the night before. But, when I get on her, there will be that telepathy and I’ll get this feeling of ‘wow, oh my God’.”
Dettori’s Group One winning haul
FRANKIE Dettori, who was born in December 1970, rode his first winner in Britain 1987.
He has already recorded 12 Group One wins this year and was top jockey at Royal Ascot.
Anapurna: Epsom Oaks.
Crystal Ocean: Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
Stradivarius: Ascot Gold Cup; Goodwood Cup.
Advertise: Commonwealth Cup; Prix Maurice de Gheest.
Coronet: Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
Enable: Coral-Eclipse; King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Too Darn Hot: Prix Jean Prat; Sussex Stakes.
Star Catcher: Irish Oaks.