What is it about Frankie Dettori, Ascot racecourse and Magnificent Sevens?, writes Tony Stafford. On September 28 1996, aged 25, he totally monopolised a single Champions Day (as it was to become) card by riding all seven winners. In the process he bankrupted a number of bookmakers – most vocally the larger-than-life Gary Wiltshire – and caused some extra work for your correspondent.
Between June 18 and 22, 2019, at the peak of the summer solstice and almost exactly twenty-two and a half years later and therefore at almost double the age, the master jockey compiled another seven wins during the five days of Royal Ascot. Thus Dettori gained his first championship at the meeting since 2004, in the days when he was still riding for Godolphin.
Fundamental to the latest extravaganza was Thursday’s opening four-timer, which for one member of a famous racing family, could have been the precursor to potential financial ruin.
Mylo Sangster, grandson of Robert and son of Guy, was part of a group of racing and gambling enthusiasts who started the company Black Type Bet three years ago. Their idealistic aims of providing a service whereby punters could actually get their bets on might well have become compromised in the meantime by the particular issues of the gambling industry, but until Thursday all seemed serene.
Then came Dettori’s 449-1 four-timer, but worse, tons of money running onto Turgenev, his mount in the following Britannia Stakes which caused his starting price to contract to 7-2 in the manner of Fujiyama Crest (2-1 from 12’s), Dettori’s last of seven winners all those years ago.
As Turgenev was sent to the front in the last two furlongs of the 28-runner handicap, the partners of Black Type were quaking in their boots, Sangster relating on Sunday that there had been the potential for a crippling £750k shortfall. As he drew three lengths clear they watched with bated breath, awaiting the coup de grace.
They needed a knight in shining armour, and in Harry Bentley they found one. Riding Biometric, appropriately a son of Bated Breath, in the Khalid Abdullah colours for the Ralph Beckett stable, Bentley brought the 28-1 shot (55-1 on Ascot’s Tote: I know, I backed him, only very small!) from way back to collar Dettori 100 yards from home.
If ever there was an appropriate winner this was it as Bentley is sponsored by, wait for it, Black Type Bet. Talk about earning your fee, I think Harry might well be in line for a nice bonus.
Apparently when seeking a jockey to sponsor, they contacted Johnno Spence, racing’s media fixer supreme and Donald Trump body double – almost! Spence initially suggested Oisin Murphy but when he had already been snapped up, turned to Gentleman Harry with Saturday’s spectacular business-saving result.
I discovered the Black Type connection with the youthful Mylo – not that it hadn’t been in the public domain since the start – while chatting to his mum Fi at Ascot on Saturday. She put us promptly in touch, possibly as reward for having tipped her Cleonte to win the Queen Alexandra, after which she had no opportunity of doing back her winnings. Mylo revealed he was one of a team of six original start-up execs, a number that has expanded to around 14, of whom he is the main horseracing trader.
Like his older brother Ned, leading light in the Mull of Killough syndicate with Jane Chapple-Hyam a few years ago, he has the Sangster family heritage in racing and indeed punting in full measure. The third generation is carrying on the example of his own father and uncles Ben, Adam, boss of Swettenham stud in Australia, and Sam. His cousin Olli, Ben’s son, looks after the Wesley Ward horses at Manton, the family base now owned by Martin Meade.
At the top I mentioned that Dettori’s 1996 Ascot extravaganza caused me some extra work. I had been commissioned by Pete Burrell, Frankie’s business manager, to write an account of his year in racing in 1996. At the time as a complement to my newspaper responsibilities I was also doing some work with David Loder, then one of Frankie’s major supporters, so came across the jockey quite a lot.
The idea was to write Frankie Dettori – A Year in the Life – as ghost writer. There were some amusing incidents on the way. Often we’d settle down for an hour or so and while I was fresh enough after a normal start, it would nearly always be after a long morning on the gallops for him. It wouldn’t take long for him to look wistfully out the window onto the paddock and say: “You know what I mean,” leaving it to me to finish the thought in question.
One incident I keep recalling was when early on, for some reason I asked him about his reading habits. He said: “I only ever read one book, Ten <20> Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” Jules Verne would have been horrified that Frankie had managed to navigate only half of it!
Anyway, as the fateful Saturday arrived, Frankie’s book was fully printed and ready to roll for the Christmas market. It had the benefit of a high-powered literary agent, Christopher Little, who went on to fill a similar role for the Harry Potter books. What a come-down!
So what to do? Publishing vintage 1996 had little bearing on the push-button era of today. But everyone agreed we had to do another chapter and duly managed it over the next couple of days. I think one or other of my three children, who all came to the launch of the book, has retained a copy, but I don’t have one and cannot tell you whether the extra words were at the front or back of the book.
Publishing had been part of my life ever since the Greyhound Express in the late 1960’s and one event which happened between that entrance into the business and the Dettori episode was brought back to life at Ascot last week.
I was introduced in the paddock to Peter Brant, and amazingly it was the first time I’d met the New York newsprint magnate and racehorse owner-breeder since November 1982. That was during my first visit to Kentucky.
David Hedges, the late founder of the still-active International Racing Bureau in Newmarket secured an invitation for me to go to Kentucky for the November Breeding stock sale, as a guest of celebrated owner-breeder Robin Scully at his famed Clovelly Farm in Lexington.
Apart from the novelty of seeing tobacco hanging out to dry in one of the Clovelly barns, I was taken around town and one of the first jaunts was to the Hyatt Hotel on the Sunday, the day before the sale in Keeneland started. Kentucky was “dry” on Sunday in those days, but the Hyatt was very busy with the sales in town and Robin introduced me to Henryk de Kwiatkowski, whom I would soon get to know much better, and Mr Brant.
Upon finding out my job, Peter said: “You know, if the big UK newspapers could sort out the union problems they would be one of the best investments anywhere in the world.”
At the time, the Berry family which owned it would have considered a bid and I suggested to Brant maybe he should buy it. I asked him at Ascot whether he recalled the conversation and amazingly he did.
In the meantime a couple of days later at that sale I discovered an exclusive that should have made a decent racing story on the Daily Telegraph pages. Danny Schwartz, one of the Sangster team of investors, revealed across the bar (and me) to Henryk that they had bought the top lot of the sale. I knew it had been knocked down to Sir Philip Payne-Gallwey, Stavros Niarchos’ legendary agent, so this had to be news of an alliance between Sangster and Niarchos.
I prepared the article, which I then transmitted over the phone to one of the telephonists back in Fleet Street. Imagine my frustration when not just that article but everything else I sent back never appeared in print. An ongoing dispute over a new printing machine developed into a full week’s strike by the printers, which only ended when management agreed to repay the boys all their lost money along with a few extra concessions.
As Peter Brant said, UK daily newspapers should have been a great investment, if only you could be sure that the unions would allow the papers to be printed!