Frankie Dettori Deeply Knows His Horses

Frankie Dettori Deeply Knows His Horses

Lanfranco Dettori’s game face is anything but the strained, pained expression many jockeys wear when they arrive at the paddock for major races. When many others are deep in thought about scenarios that may unfold on the track, he poses for photos and greets strangers as if he has known them forever.

Dettori, also know as Frankie, seemingly offers a hug and a kiss on the cheek to everyone, but when he went to embrace Aly Orseno, the 10-year-old daughter of the trainer Joseph Orseno, before he rode Imprimis in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, the child shied away. Dettori thought the rebuff was hilarious.

“She wanted no part of that,” her father said.

Although Imprimis finished sixth in the King’s Stand, Dettori fully expected to win, as he does with every mount. “I try to have a positive outlook because horses feel your feelings,” he said. “That’s a little bit of the secret, really.”

Dettori, who turns 49 on Dec. 15, could not be more comfortable than he is at the track. He spent much of his boyhood there since his father, Gianfranco, was a jockey in Sardinia. He quit school to learn to ride when he was 13. He earned his first victory when he was 16.

His confidence, combined with what is vast experience and a riding style he described as “quite natural,” has taken him to rare heights at a time when his physical skills could be expected to diminish and his enthusiasm to wane.

This week, he was named the Longines World’s Best Jockey for the third time in five years. This year he won seven times at Royal Ascot and had his 250th Group 1 triumph, achieved aboard Star Catcher in the Qipco British Champions Filly & Mare Stakes, on Oct. 19 at Ascot Racecourse.

“I feel I got him at the top of his career rather than on the other side,” said the trainer John Gosden, who helped revive Dettori’s career after the jockey’s 18-year relationship with the horse operation Godolphin ended in 2012.

Godolphin severed ties after Dettori failed a drug test while competing in France in 2012 and was suspended for six months for taking a prohibited substance. He used some of his time off to appear on the British reality show “Celebrity Big Brother.

Gosden never hesitated in stepping up after Godolphin stepped away.

“When they moved on, I said, ‘This is a terrible waste, a rider of his class and ability and his love and hunger for the game. You’ve got to keep that,’ “ Gosden said. “He remains very, very fit and riding at a top, top level.”

Dettori and the staid, professorial Gosden, 68, appear to be an odd pairing. Yet they complement each other.

“Different class, and he’s rejuvenated my career,” Dettori said. “I get along really well with him. We have chemistry together, and he’s got an amazing stable of horses with amazing owners. So, at the moment, I have no intention to stop.”

Gosden appreciates Dettori’s willingness to assist the operation by working with their finest horses in the morning. Dettori views that time as a key to victories that lead to his hands-in-the-air flying dismount.

“Jockey is a very fine name, but we are actually psychiatrists of horses because we have to find what makes them tick,” he said. “We don’t just get on them and gallop them for the sake of it. We have to find their character and try to get the best out of them.

“Some horses you can bully. Some horses you’ve got to coddle. That goes with instinct, and that goes with years of riding horses.”

Dettori coddles Enable. He has driven to the stable to feed peppermints to the mare who is a two-time winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and winner of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf.

“She has emotionally taken me places no other horses have,” Dettori said.

Gosden looks forward to having Dettori aboard Enable next year after the decision to campaign her as a 6-year-old. The trainer allows the veteran jockey to work at his own pace.

“I don’t go asking him to drive the length and width of the United Kingdom to ride in small races,” Gosden said. “I tend to keep him for important races and important meetings. He rather prides himself that he turns up for big days.”

Gosden also is careful not to micromanage such an accomplished big-race rider. “We discuss how we think the race will come up, so we have a Plan A. Plan B is a blank canvas, and he can do whatever he wants, how he feels he wants to ride it,” Gosden said. “One thing you must never do with a great jockey like that is tie them down to orders because there are split-second decisions in races.”

Dettori’s relaxed approach appears to help him routinely make correct split-second calls. He said he no longer allowed “silly things” to trouble him since he survived a small-plane crash in 2000 that killed the pilot.

Even before the crash, his demeanor never reflected the gravity of the moment.

“He’s always loose. I’ve never seen him uptight,” said Jay Glass, who has served as Dettori’s valet. “How he does it, I don’t know.”

Dettori credited his wife, Catherine, with doing the heavy lifting in raising their five children. “I’m the sixth child,” he said.

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