Performance, statistics and records help define how good a sportsman is. Bur does performing better than everybody else help you earn the ‘legendary’ tag?
Perhaps if you are Frankie Dettori.
Arguably one of the greatest flat racing jockeys of all time, Dettori demonstrated once again on Saturday night that he has the X-factor when he produced a masterclass aboard American galloper Country Grammer to win the Dubai World Cup, for the fourth time.
The irrepressible Italian delivered the kind of performance that over the years has set him apart from all other jockeys.
By staying calm under pressure, Dettori allowed Country Grammer to relax under him before asking him for his effort, which came readily, and to the max.
With $12 million at stake, the sport of horse racing is clearly an important business and connections require a jockey who has something special to offer to help secure the win.
Dettori was just the man for American handler Bob Baffert who had long been plotting a fourth victory in Dubai’s most famous race with Country Grammer.
The Italian had never ridden the five-year-old Toanlist before but that did not matter. He has the greatest understanding of a racehorse, having ridden over 3,000 winners since his career-first success at the age of 15 at Turin, Italy, back in 1986.
Over the years he has held us spellbound with his silken skills when riding winners in no fewer than 24 countries.
Now at the age of 51 Dettori shows no signs of slowing down, on the contrary, he is as fresh as he was when he first served notice by becoming a champion apprentice in Britain in 1989. He would also claim his first piece of history by becoming the first teenager since the legendary Sir Lester Piggott to ride a century of winners in a British season when booting home 141 winners in 1990.
These significant accomplishments came to the attention of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in 1993, who signed Dettorti as retained rider to the soon to world powerhouse racing stable, Godolphin.
The embarrassment of riches that the stable boasted provided Dettorri’s career with a major lift-off and the big-race wins came thick and fast and aboard some of the sport’s most famous horses — Balachine, Daylami, Halling, Lammtarra, Shamardal, Sakhee, Kayf Fara, Cape Verdi and Dubai Millennium, to name a few.
Despite his many accomplishments and worldwide conquests, Dettori will forever be linked to Ascot where he achieved the impossible in 1996 by riding all seven winners on a single day, a feat that has been recognised with a statue of the jockey commemorating a historic day in racing.
Racing and riding winners were always in his DNA as his father, Gianfranco, was champion jockey 13 times in Italy, while his mother, Iris Maria, was a circus performer who rode horses bareback.
While Dettori displays brilliance on the track, he has been delighting fans with his charisma and humour off the course as well while his restaurant Frankie’s Grill, which he opened with renowned chef Marco Pierre White, is a huge hit.
He also appeared in the reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother in January 2013 and has also been a team captain in the BBC’s A Question Of Sport.
But like many sportsmen, Dettori has had to deal with the bad as well as the good. In 2000, Dettori and fellow jockey Ray Cochrane (who later became his long-term agent) were aboard a Piper Seneca plane that crashed on take-off at Newmarket on its way to Goodwood in Sussex. Patrick Mackey, the pilot, was tragically killed but Dettori escaped with a fractured right ankle and an injured thumb.
In the same year, Dettori was awarded an MBE.
His glitter CV includes an Honorary Doctor of Science Award that he received in 2011,
Dettori split from Godolphin in 2012 but was reunited with the operation’s principal handler, Saeed bin Suroor in 2021. He was originally scheduled to ride the Emirati handler’s Real World in the Dubai World Cup, but after he was replaced by Christophe Soumillion, the opportunity came to ride Country Grammer for Baffert.
The rest is history.