Frankie Dettori says he has “done quite well” in a “surreal season” that has deprived him of the big racecourse crowds he relishes.
The Italian-born superstar jockey is being rather modest, having partnered his “favourite girl” Enable to a historic third King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes win and Stradivarius to a third successive Ascot Gold Cup triumph.
Stradivarius, whose victory at Royal Ascot helped Dettori to finish as top jockey at the meeting, will be one of the showman’s principal rides in British flat racing’s showpiece Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday.
Each Dettori win will be accompanied by his shaping his hands into a heart, firing imaginary arrows at the cameras and the famous flying dismount.
“I thought honestly without crowds I might not perform as good as with them there,” the 49-year-old told AFP. “Funnily enough it has been the former and I have done quite well.
“However, regardless of that, I am someone who does need a crowd and they do lift you.”
Dettori says once the jockeys are led into the starting stalls, he banishes from his mind any regrets about the lack of atmosphere on the racecourses due to coronavirus restrictions.
“The game we are in is high-adrenalin and a risky job,” he said. “Second nature takes over without a crowd.
“Once the stalls open you are going at 40 miles an hour flat out and we are within an inch of each other so you cannot get complacent.”
Dettori says he is sad that superstar mare Enable and Stradivarius — both trained by the man he terms “the master trainer”, John Gosden — have not had the packed stands they deserved.
“It has been a great year with those two but so surreal with no one there. You know, I would have loved to have 80,000 at the Gold Cup when ‘Strad’ won.”
He points out that Enable’s final race of a stellar career at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe this month took place in front of just 1,000 spectators — she finished sixth in her bid for a record third win.
“They all clapped but it is not the same atmosphere,” said Dettori.
“However, at least we are still doing it — at least lockdown does not affect us, and racing has been very good following the rules.”
Dettori admitted to shedding a few tears “of joy at happy memories” when Enable retired this week ahead of a breeding career and he duly went round and fed her “a packet of Polo mints”.
Now though he is determined her fellow six-year-old Stradivarius, who was seventh in the Arc, will end the season on a high in the British Champions Long Distance Cup.
“I had his owner (Bjorn Nielsen) on the phone and he said ‘now your favourite horse has gone you’d better make mine the favourite horse’ and I said ‘of course’.
“I love the little boy. I have been involved in racing for around 35 years more or less and it is unique to have a stayer with the turn of foot (speed). He is unique.”
Dettori jokes that his role in the extraordinary partnership he has formed with Gosden is “at least I steer them in the right direction”.
Aside from Stradivarius, he also has some other highly fancied rides for Gosden on Saturday.
He will be riding Palace Pier in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and French Derby winner Mishriff in the Champion Stakes.
Dettori says “it sucks” he cannot go to watch his beloved Arsenal in the close season.
“Now they are good and when they were bad I could see them”, said the Italian, who turns 50 in December.
However, retirement is not a word that passes his lips.
“Blimey really? Fifty… I forgot about that,” he said laughing.
“I have to carry on for at least three years for the Kingman-Enable yearling that will be so fast no one will be able to catch them.”
First featured here: sports.yahoo.com