Picture: UPSPLASH/SIMON PETROL
Picture: UPSPLASH/SIMON PETROL

When it comes to icons in the world of sport the contribution of a number of top stars is immeasurable. Three who spring to mind are Frankie Dettori (horse racing), Cristiano Ronaldo (football) and Lewis Hamilton (motor racing).

So, with British racing halted due to the coronavirus, it was inevitable that the UK media would contact Dettori, whose achievements have made him a valuable asset for racing.

Interviewed by the Racing Post, Dettori, who rode 19 grade 1 winners in 2019, said: “We’re not going to come out of this smelling of roses. The economy’s going to go down and as horse racing is a luxury, people are buying horses to have fun, so we might not have the investors any more.

“Then we might lose sponsorships. It’s going to hurt every sport and we have to be ready for it,” he said.

Comments by leading racing officials in the UK leave no doubt as to the high regard in which the Italian-born jockey is held in Britain.

Rod Street, CEO of Great British Racing, the sport’s promotional body, said: “Frankie is a standing dish with people who interact with racing occasionally. He has a profound effect on the public’s interaction with the sport.

“His value to racing is immeasurable — he is definitely racing’s biggest ambassador. Nobody is as immediately recognisable with the public as Frankie,” Street said.

Nick Smith, director of racing and communications at Ascot racecourse and a recent visitor to SA for the Asian racing conference in Cape Town in February, also gave his opinion on Dettori’s importance to the sport.

“I think it is hard to think of anyone who has contributed so much to racing as Frankie Dettori. He’s delivered right from the moment he started. He became racing’s adopted son very quickly after his Magnificent Seven (winners) at Ascot in 1996.”

However — as many people have pointed out — the coronavirus can strike anyone and Dettori is particularly concerned about his elderly mother who lives near Milan in the hardest-hit north of Italy.

“Having friends and family in Italy is a concern. It seems that every day it’s getting worse — we haven’t seen it getting any better. We are just praying day by day,” said Dettori.

Similar to everyone in Britain, Dettori is at home with his wife, Catherine, five children and a visiting sister who has been unable to return to Italy. Nevertheless, he rides out on the Newmarket gallops four times a week.

“It’s difficult, as the trainer has to shout at you because we have to keep two metres away.

“But horses still have to be exercised and still have to be fed. But we are wearing masks and wearing gloves — we want to try to beat this thing.

“I’m doing plenty of walking around my field and I’ve also got a gym, but it’s hard to get motivated when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll be ready to rumble as soon as it’s safe to do so,” he said.

The Italian’s remarks regarding the possibility of losing many owners is particularly worrying for all racing countries including SA. They are — without question — the backbone of the sport.