Frankie Dettori can barely contain his excitement at the news a crowd of 12,000 will join him at Royal Ascot next month.
Dettori was crowned leading rider at the showpiece fixture for the second year in a row last season – courtesy of a final-day treble, which included the Coronation Stakes on Alpine Star and the St James’s Palace on Palace Pier.
The Italian has been synonymous with the Berkshire venue ever since his ‘Magnificent Seven’ in 1996, and comes alive there – especially at the big meeting in June.
But as he reflected on those victories last year – along with Enable’s third King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes win – he described the sight of empty stands as being like “someone had cut my arm off”.
“It’s unbelievable news, and I’m so happy,” said Dettori, following Wednesday’s announcement that Royal Ascot will be added to the list of the Government’s pilot events and therefore able to welcome back a crowd of 12,000 – three times the number which was previously anticipated under step three of the road map exit from coronavirus restrictions.
“There’s nothing better than Royal Ascot with people,” he added.
“I know it’s not 60,000 – but it’s better than what we thought. Well done to everybody involved that made it possible.
“Last year I was leading rider at Royal Ascot and won three Group Ones, including the Gold Cup, (and) later in the year I won the King George. To have nobody there to see any of that, it was like someone had cut my arm off.
“Those are the biggest races we’ve got here, and I won them in front of empty grandstands. It goes without saying it wasn’t the same, so I’m so happy at this news – it will put a smile on everybody’s face.”
Dettori is keen to stress too it is not just the direct participants who will benefit.
He told the PA news agency: “It’s not just the big horses that I’ll be riding that deserve a crowd – it’s the owners of every horse who runs there over five days, (and) the breeders.
“This is why breeders and owners are involved in the game, to get to Ascot. They want that buzz.
“At the moment while we might still be doing the racing it’s barely any different to what it is like riding work in a morning.
“Let’s hope this is that start of getting full crowds back – it’s just brilliant, and I can’t thank those involved enough for making it happen.
“I’m speaking on behalf of all the jockeys really. We all can’t wait to have the crowds back.”