‘Extraordinary athlete’ Dettori is Gosden’s Royal Ascot banker

John Gosden has hailed Frankie Dettori as an “extraordinary athlete” as the pair once again seek to take Royal Ascot by storm.

Since reuniting in 2015, Gosden and Dettori have enjoyed countless big-race successes, with many coming during the Italian’s favourite meeting of the season.

Dettori has been leading rider at the festival seven times, including the last two years – and despite turning 50 recently, he shows no signs of slowing down.

He is, however, far more circumspect in what he chooses to ride – and while he had just 15 winners this season before Friday’s racing, they include the 1000 Guineas on Mother Earth, the Oaks on Snowfall, the Lockinge on Palace Pier and the Chester Cup on Falcon Eight.

Frankie Dettori specialises in the big races these days
Frankie Dettori specialises in the big races these days (Mike Egerton/Jockey Club)

“He goes into the weighing room late in the season telling the others he still hasn’t had 100 rides in the season, while the others have been up and down the A1, just to wind them up,” said Gosden.

“I did warn him this morning taking a full book of rides a couple of days running that we’d have to take the oxygen mask!

“He’s an extraordinary athlete. When he came to me at the beginning (of his career) he’d reached a crossroads in his life when he got in a bit of a muddle.

“He rode flat out for three years for me. He’d have 50 winners knocked up before the season started, just on the all-weather, then he’d ride 220 winners a year – he proved he had a work ethic.

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“He then had a wonderful reign with Godolphin and has been back with me since 2015. Naturally he’s more selective, and there’s no point thinking on a wet afternoon at Brighton he’s your man to send there – he’s not.

“You save him for the big occasions. He rides work on the horses, so he knows them, but I tend not to put him on two-year-olds first time out because we did that a few years ago at Yarmouth and he got dropped in the paddock, cracked his shoulder and missed Ascot. So we learn by our mistakes.”

Gosden was full of praise for officials in managing to stage last year’s meeting in its original slot and admitted to being surprised at the worldwide audience it garnered.

“You always look forward to it,” he said.

“I think it was an amazing achievement last year that Ascot remained firm about their dates – and it was a surreal, strange experience being in the grandstand with nobody there.

Royal Ascot was a lonely experience for John Gosden last year - even socially distancing from his son, Thady
Royal Ascot was a lonely experience for John Gosden last year – even socially distancing from his son, Thady (Edward Whitaker/PA)

“It was still great racing, no matter what. They managed to pull it off last year – but of course, we’re really looking forward to it this year. Thank goodness owners can go, and there’ll be over 10,000 people there, which will make it a rather comfortable Ascot – you won’t get knocked over by people trying to get to the bar.

“You had to be impressed with the show that was put on (last year) – it was going out worldwide. I’m not a social media creature, but it was fascinating with people feeding back in from America, Australia and people in South America – people were just thrilled to be watching sport of top quality.

“The way the cameras filmed it was very clever – they kept it on the horses rather than film an empty grandstand. I also think the horses enjoyed it, because they didn’t have to put up with any military bands or 50,000 people, so if you brought a nervous horse it was the perfect time to run!

“We mustn’t forget we are in the entertainment business, though, and the sooner we get back to normal life – with 60 or 70,000 people there on the Saturday – the better.”

Royal Ascot is often held up as Flat racing’s equivalent of Cheltenham, unsurprisingly so when so many of its races form part of the Qipco British Champions Series, but Gosden feels its place in the calendar means it is rather different.

“I would be being positive when I say that Cheltenham slightly overpowers the National Hunt season, and if you think about it Ascot is before the mid-point of our season and it has become omnipotent – extremely important,” he said.

“I’ve had many owners say, because they didn’t have a winner at Ascot the season had been a disaster, and I’d have to remind them we hadn’t even reached the mid-point. But having said that, it’s a great programme, they know it, they are fascinated by it.

“I was quite surprised by what was coming in from all around the world last year – and once again it will all be beaming out, and none of us will feel any pressure!

“I’m not numerically sharp enough to play poker, but I think you learn down the years to put on a bit of a disguise. Of course inside you are in knots and nervous. If you’re not and don’t care to that extent then I suggest you get out of the game, because it means your heart isn’t in it any more.

Stradivarius was supreme in the Gold Cup last year and is seeking a fourth win in the race
Stradivarius was supreme in the Gold Cup last year and is seeking a fourth win in the race (Megan Ridgwell/PA)

“I’m extremely nervous and edgy – and probably not the easiest person to live with coming up to any big race or big meeting – but having said that, it is your nature. Just because you have a calm exterior, it doesn’t mean inside you’re not a bit neurotic.”

Looking ahead to this year’s meeting, Gosden will be relying on established stars like Palace Pier in the Queen Anne, which opens the meeting, and super stayer Stradivarius – who is chasing a fourth Gold Cup.

“Let’s be honest, we’re totally dependent on our older horses,” said Gosden.

“We do have a couple of nice two-year-olds – but I think our three-year-old crop, to be quite honest, sadly, is probably the worst I’ve had in living memory.

“So you won’t see us particularly potent in any of the three-year-old races, and it was probably noticeable I didn’t have an entry at Epsom last weekend – which isn’t normal for us, but if you haven’t got them, you haven’t got them.”

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