Dubai World Cup: Flying Frankie eyes perfect Dubai swansong

The legendary Italian jockey is looking to win his fifth Dubai World Cup race


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Frankie Dettori celebrates after guiding Country Grammer to victory in the Dubai World Cup last year. — Reuters
Frankie Dettori celebrates after guiding Country Grammer to victory in the Dubai World Cup last year. — Reuters

Published: Thu 23 Mar 2023, 5:53 PM

Last updated: Thu 23 Mar 2023, 11:27 PM

He has enjoyed some of his biggest successes in Dubai and now Lanfranco Dettori, better known as Frankie to the racing world, returns to his favourite hunting ground on Saturday for one final hurray when he rides the defending champion Country Grammer in the 27th $12 million Dubai World Cup.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest jockeys ever to grace the Sport of Kings, Dettori is the joint leading rider in the iconic race with four wins, a record he shares with American Hall of Fame jockey, Jerry Bailey.

For those who seek Dettori’s legacy in the future, they need to look no further than the history books that attempt to document the incomparable Italian’s greatest accomplishments.

Lord North with jockey Frankie Dettori wins $4 million Group 1 Dubai Turf in the Dubai World Cup night on March 27, 2021. — AP
Lord North with jockey Frankie Dettori wins $4 million Group 1 Dubai Turf in the Dubai World Cup night on March 27, 2021. — AP

Like more jockeys in the sport, Dettori is by no means a big man, standing all of 5 foot 1 inch in his riding boots. But what he lacks in physicality, cannot compare to his towering achievements at every major racecourse on the planet.

He has been the most dominant rider for over three decades and a sportsman who has had a profound and long-lasting impact on the sport that shaped his life.

UAE racing enthusiasts will always remember one of his most famous victories in Dubai in 2000 when he majestically rode the great Dubai Millennium to a record-setting victory in the Dubai World Cup.

This was the first of his four wins in the race that were followed by Moon Ballad (2003), Electrocutionist (2006), and Country Grammer (2022).

Dettori also played a pivotal role in helping establish the Godolphin stable created by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, as a global powerhouse.

The Italian, who has lived in Newmarket, England, for most of his 53 years, also donned Godolphin’s famous Royal Blue silks to victory in some of the world’s most famous races including the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, (7 times), Eclipse Stakes (3), the King George (7), Lockinge (5), the Queen Anne Stakes (7), St. Leger (6) and the list goes on and on and exceeds over 130 major victories in the Uk alone.

Add to that his successes in France’s iconic Arc de Triomphe (3), his 14 victories in the Breeders’ Cup Thoroughbred Championships in America, and many more in Australia, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, among others, and you will understand just why he is the most famous face in thoroughbred racing.

Dettori was at the heart of every major race meet since he burst onto the racing scene in 1990 when, as a teenager, he became the first jockey since the legendary Lester Piggott to ride 100 winners in a single season in the UK.

Dettori also championed the Godolphin flag at several other racecourses and also rode horses for private owners or others who simply benefited from his extraordinary riding skills.

On an unforgettable Saturday in 1996, Dettori enjoyed one of his greatest days in racing when he rode all seven winners at Ascot, a feat that had never been achieved in the history of horse racing.

It was an astonishing feat which is recognised by The Queen’s racecourse which erected a statue at its entrance as a tribute to the Italian’s wizardry that cast a long-last spell on the historic venue.

On Saturday, Dettori has the same number of rides at the Dubai World Cup meeting, and while it would be absurd to assume that he will win all there is no denying that the ‘Dettori Factor ‘will be felt at Meydan where he will be riding possibly for the last time in his career.

Speaking to the media at Meydan Racecourse on Thursday morning, Dettori turned on the charm and appeared genuinely fascinated by the questions being asked of him by a large and diverse group of media.

The most obvious question was whether Country Grammer can make history by winning the Dubai World Cup for a second time and emulating Godolphin’s Thunder Snow who is the only dual winner of the race. Thunder Snow won in 2018-2019.

Twelve months ago, Dettori delivered a masterclass aboard the Bob Baffert trainee Country Grammer to end a a 16-year wait for a fourth World Cup success after Electrocutionist in 2006.

However, the American galloper suffered a second defeat in the $20 million Saudi Cup when narrowly beaten by Japanese raider Panthalass, who he will face again on Saturday.

Country Grammer needed every yard in the 1800-metre contest on that occasion and will no doubt benefit from the step up in trip in Saturday’s race at Meydan.

Dettori, however, had no misconception about the task on hand as his charge was drawn wide in the lesser favourable stall 14

"It obviously looks like a very competitive race. Beforehand last year we thought that Life Is Good was unbeatable and he probably was until the furlong pole – and then he just collapsed,” Dettori said.

“This year there’s more strength in depth. There are eight Japanese runners, multiple Group 1 winners, and a big field. One thing for sure about Country Grammer is that he’s all about leaving everything on the track. You know he’s going to run until the end so I couldn’t ask for a better companion.”

Over the years, Dettori has had to overcome many challenges when racing from difficult post positions and on most occasions, he has come up trumps.

But he admits that a lot will depend on the courage that Country Grammer brings to Meydan on Saturday.

“It’s not going to be easy and stall 14 is not ideal,” the Italian acknowledged. “I spoke to Amir Zidan (owner) last night and just said that it is what it is. We can’t change it now so let’s get on with it and see how the race unfolds.

“I can’t really say a bad word about Country Grammer because if you look at his form he’s all guts – he’s a proper horse.

Frankie Dettori jumps off Delegator after winning the 1400m third race on the Dubai World Cup night in 2012. — KT file
Frankie Dettori jumps off Delegator after winning the 1400m third race on the Dubai World Cup night in 2012. — KT file

“The way that he ran in the San Antonio Stakes (at Santa Anita on Boxing Day), he was just sharp and was easy. I was outpaced around the turn and I thought I was in trouble, but the same as last year in the World Cup, he just doesn’t know how to give up,” he added.

“Sometimes he runs out of runway but you just know that he’s going to give you everything he’s got.”

Earlier this year Dettori confirmed that he will call time on his career at the end of the year at the season-ending Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, but for the moment was focusing on riding in Dubai, a city that he has always had special feelings for.

"I'm loving it in America and perhaps I should have done it 10 years ago,” he said. “I did not realize I was going to do so well in America, the lifestyle suits me but I think the success has made the difference.

“But I worked for Godolphin for 18 years and spent many winters in Dubai with my wife (Cathrine) and kids (Leo, Ella, Mia, Tallula, and Rocco) who grew up here, so it always feels quite emotional being here.

"This year is will be no different, it is my last World Cup and I ride two horses who have won on here already (Country Grammer and Lord North), so there’s extra pressure but I’m looking forward to it.

“I have seven rides on the night and I’m not just thinking about my farewell, I’m thinking about trying to do well on Saturday.”

Besides Country Grammer, Lord North holds a special place in Dettori’s heart. The John and Thady Gosden-trained son of Dubawi will be hoping to make history should he win the Group 1 Dubai Turf over nine furlongs for the third straight time.

“I love Lord North to bits,” said the Italian. “He has had his problems in the past but he always turns up at the right time. I rode him this morning and he seems like his old self.

“I’m looking forward to a little bit of everything really. I’m riding a savvy sprinter in Raaed who ran very well in Saudi and also Trawlerman, who may have disappointed in Saudi but I’m expecting him to improve for that effort,” he added.

“I’m also looking forward to riding two other Bob Baffert horses including The Derby horse Worcester who looks super solid and the sprinter Hopkins who also looks solid.”

Whatever happens at Meydan on Saturday it will not alter the public opinion about Dettori given the colossal impact he has had on it with his extraordinary instinct and precision.

For him, the thoroughbred horse is his first love, and what better than to see him deliver his swansong in Dubai with the whole world watching and applauding the horsemanship that has thrilled so many people for the past three decades?

Did You Know?

* Frankie is the son of the Sardinian jockey Gianfranco Dettori, who was a hugely successful and three-time champion jockey.

* He likes English culture, lives in Newmarket England, and is a supporter of Arsenal in the EPL.

* He has a line of frozen Italian food and in 2004 owns three restaurants in London called Frankie's Italian Bar and Grill. He also opened a branch in Dubai in 2007 at The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence, and another in Abu Dhabi at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr.

* In 2000, Dettori and his agent Ray Cochrane were involved in a plane crash that killed the pilot, Patrick Mackey. Dettori escaped with a fractured right ankle and an injured thumb. He did not travel by small jets thereafter.

* In 2006 thieves stole many of Dettori's medals from his country estate, called White Horse Stables, near Newmarket in Suffolk. Items missing include three Gold Cups awarded in Japan and his MBE. He currently lives in Stetchworth near Newmarket, Suffolk.

Frankie’s famous wins in Dubai

Maktoum Challenge, Round 3 – (5)

Dubai Millennium (2000), Street Cry (2002), Grandera (2003), Electrocutionist (2006), Jalil (2008)

Dubai Turf – (3)

Tamayaz (1997), Lord North (2021, 2022)

Dubai Golden Shaheen – (1)

Kelly's Landing (2007)

Dubai Sheema Classic – (3)

Stowaway (1998), Sulamani (2003), Rewilding (2011)

Dubai World Cup – (4)

Dubai Millennium (2000), Moon Ballad (2003), Electrocutionist (2006), Country Grammer (2022)

Jebel Hatta – (2)

Siege (2000), Mahfooth (2001)

Al Quoz Sprint – (1)

Great Britain (2007)

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