Is Dettori past it?

It’s a critical year for Frankie Dettori, and the first part of it is looking very strange. When, for example, was the last time he didn’t have a ride in either the Derby or the Oaks? And when was the last time it took him until York's late May meeting to ride his first ten winners of the season? Why is he in this position when his position as the outstanding jockey of the last 20 years is hardly disputed?

As with most things there isn’t just one single answer. In simple terms, his employer, Godolphin, don’t have any entries in either Classic. Dettori said last week, “I’ve got nothing in the Derby, nothing in the Oaks, and nothing in the Coronation Cup. What’s going to be in the Derby? There will be five or six for O’Brien, but I can’t ride for him. Thank God I won it once.”

It isn’t for want of trying, as his agent Ray Cochrane made clear. The former jockey said, “Rides in the Derby are very thin on the ground and we’re scratching our heads a bit. It’s a very tight race this year. All the fancied horses are organised with their own jockeys and they’re all tied to the stables, so they’re not going to be taking their own jocks off to put Frankie on, much as I’d love them to. The Oaks is going to be much stronger than the Derby, and Mahmood al-Zarooni has some fillies left in there. We’re hoping something comes along.”

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If that sounds as if he thinks his opportunities of winning the Derby again are going to be severely limited, that could be because even this year, Godolphin’s anticipated runner wasn’t his ride. Mickael Barzalona, at 20 years old, not even half Dettori’s age, rode Mandaean in the Dante. He also had the leg up on Kailani when she pulverised the rest of the Pretty Polly field at Newmarket earlier this month. If she is supplemented for the Oaks this week why would Sheikh Mohammed change the jockey he insisted rode the horse at Newmarket?

Dettori clearly knew that when Godolphin signed up Barzalona at the start of the season, his days as their principal jockey were limited. But I doubt that he thought he would drop down the pecking order quite as quickly as seems to be happening. Perhaps it will take a spare ride from a different stable to remind Godolphin that Dettori is still a superb talent.