Tag Archive for: Luca Cumani

Cumani: Hong Kong setback was ‘biggest stroke of luck’ for Dettori

Luca Cumani, the man credited with launching the career of Frankie Dettori, has pinpointed a defining moment for his fellow Italian which he believes was key in helping him reach the top of the tree.

Dettori was just beginning to make a name for himself in the UK having replaced Ray Cochrane as Cumani’s stable jockey.

However, the young rider had decided to accept an offer to ride in Hong Kong at the start of 1993, without consulting Cumani, sending his boss into a tailspin.

“That was a major turning point in my life, in his life and it still causes me great sadness what happened then,” Cumani told OLBG.

Markofdistinction winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot for Dettori and Cumani
Markofdistinction winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot for Dettori and Cumani (Rebecca Naden/PA)

“He had been riding for a year or two as my number one jockey and in those days, there was no all-weather in the winter and then after the November Handicap, jockeys would disappear off the face of the earth.

“They would go on holiday, go and ride in America, Australia, Hong Kong, wherever. I remember about January or February I was getting calls from the press asking if it was true that Frankie had signed to race in Hong Kong.

“It took me totally by surprise, I said I couldn’t believe it and said he wouldn’t be doing something like that at all. But it carried on, the press ringing up all the time and I kept saying it wasn’t true but I couldn’t get hold of him. We didn’t have mobile phones, I didn’t know where he was.

“Come the middle of February, there is a knock on my door and Frankie walks in with a big grin, we hug, we go and sit down and he says ‘I am going to ride in Hong Kong’. I felt the blood just drain from my body, completely. I couldn’t believe it.”

Cumani went on: “Here was this great talent, who had everything in front of him, being a big-name jockey in Europe and throughout the world in time, was going off to go and ride in what – at the time – was a bit of a backwater racing nation, Hong Kong.

“I tried to dissuade him, we spoke for hours and hours and he was determined and said he was going, and then I lost my cool. I said to him ‘If you don’t change your mind then I will never speak to you again’. I was so angry. So we left on very bad terms.”

However, Dettori never did get to Hong Kong as he had planned, after receiving a caution for possession of a small amount of cocaine.

Cumani believes that course of events was a major turning point in Dettori becoming one of the most famed riders of all time.

He explained: “But then, Frankie has always been a very lucky person. He was lucky to come to England and then he went to an Arsenal game, because he was an Arsenal fan, with some friends and luck – or bad luck – would have it his car got stopped by the police and they found a minute amount of cocaine in the car.

Frankie Dettori performs one his famous flying dismounts
Frankie Dettori performs one his famous flying dismounts (Mike Egerton/PA)

“It hit the news and that got to Hong Kong, and they cancelled his contract straight away. That was the biggest stroke of luck for Frankie. If he had gone to Hong Kong then we would never have known Frankie as we do now.

“Unfortunately, by then we had burned our bridges and so he had to start from scratch again. He got lucky that John Gosden hadn’t been in the country long and didn’t have a jockey at the time, they started linking up and it took off from there and then on to Godolphin and the rest of the story.”

He added: “He and I probably didn’t talk for possibly a year or two and then, one day, he came to see me. He knocked on my door, it was pouring with rain, with a grin he said ‘Can I come in?’ and I said ‘No, you can stay out there and get soaking wet’. It broke the ice and then we started talking again, riding for me on occasions when he was available and we won some big races together, not enough, but big races like the Breeders’ Cup and Japan Cup.”

Frankie Dettori's career is coming to a close
Frankie Dettori’s career is coming to a close (Tim Goode/PA)

Dettori will bring his career to a close at the end of this year, although his former mentor believes he could have carried for a few years yet at the very top.

Cumani said: “I was very disappointed when he announced that he was retiring this year because he has been riding so well. In the spring whenever he was winning a big race I would always text him saying ‘What the hell are you doing retiring? You’re better than ever’ and he would come back and say it was decided. It just made me wonder why? He could have two or three more years. Look at Mike Smith in America, he is 56 and is still riding and is at the top of his game.

“I have tried to persuade him not to retire but I can see why, it comes to all of us and we move on to greener pastures. His last year has been fantastic, I am so glad for him and now I am resigned to the fact he is retiring, so he tells me, so all that is left is to applaud his career.

“Everybody can change their mind, Frankie could, but I think there isn’t a cut-off point where he stops riding altogether. I think when he goes to the States for the Breeders’ Cup, he could stay there for the winter and see how far he goes.”

Cumani recalls fantastic campaign with International star Falbrav

Even for Luca Cumani it is hard to believe 20 years have passed since the fabulous Falbrav landed the Juddmonte International during a solitary but sensational season on British soil.

Described by his trainer as “the Muhammad Ali of the racing world”, Falbrav had already proven himself a top-class performer by the time he joined the Bedford House maestro, having won two Group Ones in Italy and the Japan Cup under Frankie Dettori the previous year.

That international success at Nakayama proved to be his last for Cumani’s fellow Italian Luciano d’Auria as Falbrav moved to Newmarket for what proved to be his final campaign.

Falbrav enjoying a spin in Newmarket during his build up to the Juddmonte International
Falbrav enjoying a spin in Newmarket during his build up to the Juddmonte International (PA)

“It doesn’t feel like 20 years ago at all, it feels more like five or six years,” said Cumani.

“The owner had raced him for three years in Italy and he thought it was time to see what he could do on the international circuit.

“I think he came to me in around February of his five-year-old year and we started from there.”

The 74-year-old revealed that while Falbrav’s ability did not immediately shine through, it did not take him long to realise he had something special on his hands.

He added: “It wasn’t immediately obvious how good he was as he was a very laid-back horse who didn’t show you much when he was just cantering, but from the first time he galloped and did a piece of work, you could see that he had instant acceleration and was very powerful.”

Luca Cumani enjoyed a fantastic year with Falbrav
Luca Cumani enjoyed a fantastic year with Falbrav (Nigel French/PA)

Falbrav headed back to the continent to make his first couple of starts for his new trainer, finishing third in the Prix Ganay in April before securing further Group One glory in the Prix d’Ispahan the following month.

He could finish only fifth behind Nayef in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, but turned the tables to win a humdinger of a Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.

Another defeat at Ascot in the King George followed, but Cumani never lost faith.

He said: “His run in the Ganay was a good start – he showed that he belonged, but he needed to improve. And sure enough he improved on his second start when he won the Prix d’Ispahan.

“He won the Eclipse in very good style and the mile and a half and the softer ground didn’t really suit him in the King George, but I remember there was some sort of bonus on offer, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have run him.”

Dropping back in trip on a quick surface at York the following month, hopes were high that Falbrav could again bounce back from disappointment in the Juddmonte International.

Always travelling well in the hands of Darryll Holland, Cumani’s ace kicked in the turbo to propel himself two lengths clear of Magistretti, with his old rival Nayef back in third.

Cumani said: “I was certainly hopeful going to York. In the whole of my career, I’ve never been confident as you never know what might happen in a race. My favourite saying was when it comes to horses and women – never confident, always hopeful!

“It definitely was one of his best performances. He sat behind the pace and when Darryll asked him to quicken with three furlongs to go, he put the race to bed immediately.

“Once Darryll gave him a bit of rein he showed a good burst of speed, got to the lead and held on to the line and won by a couple of lengths.”

Following his success on the Knavesmire, Falbrav was beaten a neck by High Chaparral in the Irish Champion Stakes. Connections attempted to have the result reversed on appeal following interference, but were unsuccessful.

Cumani’s charge gained some compensation in the QEII at Ascot, after which he was again trumped by High Chaparral in a Breeders’ Cup Turf for the ages at Santa Anita, before fittingly rounding off his career with an eighth Group One success in the Hong Kong Cup.

“The Irish Champion Stakes was slightly controversial as I think Mick Kinane rode two horses that day – he was riding High Chaparral and Falbrav!” Cumani recalled.

“He held Falbrav tight in a pocket against the rail and Darryll could never really get down to ride the horse properly and we were beaten a neck, so he was a bit unlucky.

“It was fantastic, that win in Hong Kong again showed what a good horse he was. He did it very easily and showed his trademark turn of foot with a couple of furlongs to run.”

Falbrav after winning the QEII at Ascot
Falbrav after winning the QEII at Ascot (Rebecca Naden/PA)

Falbrav ran in 10 top-level races in the space of eight months for Cumani, winning five.

The trainer feels his overall record of eight Group One wins achieved in five different countries is testament to the horse’s class and constitution.

He said: “He had an amazing year with all the travelling he had to do, going to America and back and Hong Kong after that.

“He was a bull of a horse – I always used to say he was the Muhammad Ali of the racing world.

“He would definitely have to be one of the best horses I trained.”

Cumani would love to see Dettori mark his final Royal Ascot in style

Having played a key role in the very start of Frankie Dettori’s love affair with Royal Ascot, Luca Cumani will be a keen observer when his compatriot bids for a fairytale ending to his association with the meeting.

It is 38 years since a then-teenage Dettori first touched down on British soil, at which stage his experience of riding thoroughbreds was almost as non-existent as his ability to speak English.

Cumani, by then an established trainer at Bedford House stables in Newmarket having previously served as assistant to the late, great Sir Henry Cecil, was tasked with showing his fellow Italian the ropes – and insists it did not take him long to realise he had a rough diamond on his hands.

“Frankie’s father was my father’s stable jockey in Italy, so that was the connection. His father decided that he wanted to send Frankie to England and that’s how it started,” said Cumani.

“When he arrived I knew I had a bit responsibility because this was a 14-year-old kid who couldn’t speak a word of English and had more or less ridden ponies and never really ridden racehorses before.

“But he was a very quick learner, he quickly learnt to speak English to a point and rode very well.

“It was not immediately obvious how much talent he had, but once he started get confidence on a horse and then he started riding work, you could see had a natural affinity with the job.”

Frankie Dettori will be riding at Royal Ascot for the last time next week
Frankie Dettori will be riding at Royal Ascot for the last time next week (Mike Egerton/PA)

It was four years after his arrival that Cumani gave Frankie Dettori his first taste of Royal Ascot, jocking up aboard his apparent second string Rain Burst in the 1989 Coronation Stakes.

Dettori, who at the time was still claiming 3lb, had steered the Sheikh Mohammed-owned filly to a win in lesser company at Goodwood just nine days earlier and she was a 12-1 shot stepping up in class.

Cumani also fielded Comic Talent, who lined up under stable jockey Ray Cochrane following a five-race winning streak in the Cheveley Park silks.

In the end neither were able to land a telling blow, but Rain Burst did outperform her better-fancied stablemate to finish fifth. Cumani had no doubt about giving Dettori his opportunity at the highest level, despite still being an apprentice.

He said: “He was only claiming 3lb and that was a fraud really because he was better than that.”

Dettori rounded off 1989 by being crowned champion apprentice and by the time the following year’s Royal Ascot came around, he was a fully-fledged jockey and Cumani’s main man.

The showpiece fixture got under way with the Queen Anne Stakes, in which Cumani and Dettori teamed up with Markofdistinction, who had previously finished fourth as a hot favourite for the Lockinge Stakes.

Cumani admits that while it was not entirely easy viewing, Dettori was at his brilliant best as he threaded the eye of the needle to secure the first of his 77 Royal Ascot wins to date.

“I remember it well because he took the daring route on the inside, going between runners and against the stands rail,” Cumani recalled.

Markofdistinction and Frankie Dettori winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot
Markofdistinction and Frankie Dettori winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot (Rebecca Nalden/PA)

“As he was poking his head in there I thought ‘good God, I hope he’s done the right thing here!’. Thankfully he burst through and won the race very well.

“We were hopeful of a good performance, never confident because with such high-class races you can’t be confident, but we were hopeful and he delivered.”

No one could have envisaged the glittering career Dettori would go on to enjoy, but Cumani added: “We had an inkling. The fact that he’d only just come out of his apprenticeship and we made him stable jockey was a big vote of confidence.

“We had a good idea that he was going to be around for a long time and was going to be very successful.”

Cumani brought the curtain down on his own illustrious racing career in 2018, retiring from the training ranks after saddling two Derby winners in Kahyasi (1988) and High-Rise (1998) and countless other big-race winners over the course of 43 years.

Luca Cumani (left) at Royal Ascot
Luca Cumani (left) at Royal Ascot (Mike Egerton/PA)

He will not be travelling to Ascot but would love Dettori to bag at least one winner on his final Royal meeting performance, even if he believes he was hasty in his decision to announce his impending retirement late last year.

“I won’t be going at all this year because my wife has had a foot operation and is hobbling about, so we’ll be watching from home,” Cumani said.

“I send Frankie a message every time he wins a big race and tell him he’s making a mistake in giving up and should carry on!

“He will be a big loss to racing and I’m sure he’s thought about it (changing his mind), but he seems to be determined this will be his last year, or so he tells me!”