Another bumper year for Frankie Dettori as he nears 50
So if you could have been any sportsman or sportswoman in 2019 who would it have been?
The list is a long one. It would include Lewis Hamilton, Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi, footballers Mo Salah, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and female jockey, Hayley Turner, who made racing history at Royal Ascot.
If he’s seen the pic of Ronaldo’s girlfriend in a swimming pool on social media (which I’m sure he has!), I’m convinced Turftalk editor, Charl Pretorius, would vote for the famous footballer. However, my personal choice would be narrowed down to just two guys at the top of their profession, Frankie Dettori and cricketer Ben Stokes.
A friend of mine was at Headingley in Leeds to witness Stokes’ heroic knock of 135 which secured England a sensational win in the cricket World Cup.
We Poms were hoping for an “action replay” at in the first Test at Centurion, but it did not happen.
“Ben’s knock was like something you only expect in children’s comics — I’ll be telling my grand-kids about it for years,” my friend said.
Interestingly, Stokes and Dettori have had to overcome major problems to get their careers back on track. Stokes had a much-publicised court case after a brawl, while Dettori was banned for six months following a drug test in France seven years ago.
Born in Milan in 1970, Dettori celebrated his 49th birthday two weeks ago and has stated he has no intention of hanging up his saddle. Why would he?
His net worth is estimated at £14m and this year he has earned me than £2m in prize money. He can point out that Lester Piggott rode a grade 1 winner at the age of 56 and famous footballer, Stanley Matthews, was still playing in his fifties.
To say that Dettori has come a long way since riding his first winner in June 1987 is an understatement. He is racing’s pin-up boy and — similar to Stokes’ innings being a highlight — his tally of seven winners at Ascot in September 1996 is still regarded as one of the best days of an outstanding career.
As I found out after spending three days with Dettori and his wife, Catherine, at Mala Mala four years ago, there is a naughty side to the Italian and his love of French champagne is well known.
After winning the St James Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2018, Dettori kissed the hand of Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle. It prompted a few frowns from the older royalty present, but it was just another situation — similar to his flying leaps — of “Frankie” expressing his vibrant character.
In 2019, journos have had reams of copy as a result of Dettori’s exploits — mainly as a result of his association with John Gosden’s champion filly, Enable.
When it was announced Enable would remain in training in 2020, Dettori said: “She is the world’s favourite horse. To have one more year with my special girl is amazing. I’m absolutely buzzing about it.”
Amazing is not a strong enough word to describe Enable’s win in the grade 1 King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot at the end of July.
It was — in my book — the best race of the year in which Enable, after racing wide, got a neck verdict over Crystal Ocean with subsequent Arc victor, Waldegeist, finishing third.
That was Enable’s second King George triumph, and Gosden and Dettori will be hoping the superstar filly can upstage Dahlia and Swain who both won the prestigious Ascot race twice.
After that success, the big question on the lips of racing fans was whether Enable could win the Arc De Triomphe in Paris for a record third time.
It was not to be. Sent off 4-6 favourite, Enable was decisively outpointed by Andre Fabre’s runner, Waldegeist. After the race, Dettori commented: “I waited till the 300m pole, but she didn’t find as much as I thought. The winner was too good for me today.”
There followed another disappointment in the Melbourne Cup a month later when Dettori picked up a second ban in Australia’s most famous race.
He would dearly love to put the marathon Flemington race on his winners CV before he retires.
Yes, when he cracked open the champagne on New Year’s Eve, Frankie Dettori will simply have wished that 2020 proves as successful as the past 12 months. He will be 50 next December, but it would be unwise to believe he cannot compete at the highest level for another five years.
Update: January 11 2020
This article was updated to clarify that Ben Stokes had a much-publicised court case after a brawl, while Frankie Dettori was banned for six months following a drug test in France seven years ago.