After the second winner, they gave Frankie Dettori the top jockey’s armband. After the third, he said: “It doesn’t get better than this.” But it did.
Caught in a pocket on Stradivarius with just over a furlong to run, Dettori managed to find room to launch a winning run on the even-money favourite. For the next 40 minutes, the bookmakers were staring into the abyss.
Of all the jockeys of the past 30 years, it had to be him. Days such as these are the reason so many punters put Dettori’s mounts in accumulators with almost religious devotion. Most of the bets end up as losers but they know if they forget to put their money down on a big afternoon of racing, they could end up regretting it for the rest of their days.
Horses have always run for Dettori, ever since his time as a teenaged champion apprentice in the 1980s, and when he gets on a roll there is a sense anything is possible. By the time he had completed a 224-1 treble in the first three races, the odds on Dettori’s final three rides on the card, including the hot favourite, Stradivarius, in the Gold Cup, had collapsed to a combined 40-1.
When he then added the Royal meeting’s feature event with a typical display of composure under the greatest of pressure, office money from panicking bookmakers facing huge liabilities forced the double on Turgenev and Questionare, Dettori’s final two mounts on the card, to around 10-1, from 250-1 at the start of the day.
Dettori can move the markets like no jockey since Lester Piggott and the confidence and swagger of Dettori’s double on Wednesday had been, in hindsight, a taster of what to expect on Gold Cup day. He opened up with a perfectly timed run to land the Norfolk on A’Ali, was ideally placed on Sangarius to make the most of a messy race for the Hampton Court Stakes and then produced another masterpiece of no-nonsense judgment to close out the Ribblesdale on Star Catcher.
By now, you could follow Dettori’s progress from the track back to the winner’s enclosure by listening for the swell of acclaim that swept from right to left as Dettori was led back in front of the packed stands.
“When Frankie’s in form, he really sets this place alight,” Chris Stickels, the clerk of the course, said. “After his first three winners, I thought: ‘Wow, that’s amazing’ and he still had the ride on the favourite in the Gold Cup to come. We will miss Frankie when he retires. He’s a superstar. He loves this place and rides it really well and he certainly got the crowd very excited.”
The excitement reached fever-pitch as Dettori gunned Turgenev into the lead from the off in the Britannia Stakes and still had 27 opponents trailing behind him with one of the eight furlongs still to run. Dettori led all the way on Fujiyama Crest to land the last leg of his famous Magnificent Seven here back in 1996, and the late Pat Eddery, in the famous colours of Prince Khalid Abdullah, emerged from the pack to mount a challenge.
It was the same colours again on Thursday, this time worn by Harry Bentley and this time passing Dettori and claiming the prize. Even Turgeve’s artificially short starting price of 7-2 suggested that he was much more likely to lose than to win, but still there was a mood of disbelief in the stands that the script had been torn up within sight of the line.
No repeat, then, of the heroics of 23 years ago but still a powerful reminder Dettori remains the sport’s one and only truly bankable star. Also, perhaps, the last jockey who will ever be widely identified by his first name alone. Lester had it and Frankie has it too and we can only enjoy it while it lasts.
“It has been a brilliant day and long may it continue,” Dettori said. “I’m looking forward to doing it all over again tomorrow.”