Old timers prove that Royal Ascot is no young man's game

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By James Toney at Ascot

As a child Frankie Dettori had an overriding ambition to be a petrol pump attendant. He may have a fair few miles on the clock but a career of winners, 74 and counting at Royal Ascot, shows no signs of running out of gas.

Dettori, who turned 50 last year, cut a rather forlorn figure 12 months ago, despite banging home six winners to finish as the meeting’s top jockey for the sixth time.

Because for ultimate showman Dettori, Royal Ascot without his adoring crowds is a bit like pomp without circumstance, pride minus privilege or strawberries sans cream.

And as we inch ever closer to towards the old normal, normal service was resumed as Dettori guided superstar Palace Pier to victory in the group one Queen Anne Stakes.

This was the race where Dettori first tasted Royal Ascot success 31 years ago but he's still as giddy as a teenager in this winner's enclosure.

"I'm still getting the same kick," he said.

"I was so excited this morning, I needed some valium to calm down. This meeting is such a part of my life and I just couldn't ask for any more.

"I've a lot of good rides this week but this takes the pressure off. You can't imagine how great it feels to see the colours and hear the people screaming again. Makes you feel a little emotional."

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Palace Pier, trained by John Gosden and son Thady, is eight from nine and remains unbeaten this season and it's hard to argue with those who claim he's the best horse in training.

And Dettori is firmly part of the fan club.

"It's like getting a top player to take the first penalty and he always sticks it in the net," he added.

"You can rely on him, he's just so clever. He's the best horse in the world in my opinion and everything went right. He's unstoppable and he goes on any ground, he should take all the credit."

Palace Pier's next engagement could be a showdown with rising star Poetic Flare at Goodwood, after the 2000 Guineas winner added the St James's Palace Stakes to his resume.

And that means Dettori versus Kevin Manning, who at 54 is even more of an old-timer than sprightly Frankie.

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Manning is son-in-law to evergreen trainer Jim Bolger, a 79-year-old striking another blow for the old guard and proving this isn't necessarily a young man's game.

Bolger won his first Royal Ascot race in 1983, around the time a 13-year old Frankie left school to become a stable boy in Milan.

The Irish trainer last claimed this group one prize with Dawn Approach in 2013, who just happens to be Poetic Flare's old man. It can be a family affair this equine business - worthy of a Jilly Cooper page turner.

"It was just amazing. Dad always had faith in him, I phoned him after the race and said 'well done, you're a legend' and he said: 'that's exactly what I was expecting," said Una Bolger, daughter to the trainer, wife of the jockey.

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