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Racing luminaries pay tribute to Frankie Dettori on 50th birthday

As Frankie Dettori celebrates his 50th birthday, leading figures from the world of racing have saluted his enduring talent:

Sir Anthony McCoy, 20-times champion National Hunt jockey

Tony McCoy (left) and Frankie Dettori at Sandown
Tony McCoy (left) and Frankie Dettori at Sandown (Tony Harris/PA)

“Frankie is like Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Mike Tyson and Tiger Woods – there’s just something different about him.

“I read a quote from a great philosopher, who said ‘Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see’. That is what Frankie is like – obviously there’s a lot of talent there, but there’s also that little bit of genius in him that means he can see things faster and better than other people can.

“With the exception of Lester Piggott, he’s the best-known person in racing. A lot of people can talk the talk, but not many can walk the walk, but he has – all around the world.

“Frankie doesn’t need anyone to say how great he is. He’s a brilliant person as well as a brilliant jockey – he’s got it all.”

Aidan O’Brien, record-breaking trainer:

Frankie Dettori winning the St Leger for Aidan O'Brien aboard Scorpion in 2005
Frankie Dettori winning the St Leger for Aidan O’Brien aboard Scorpion in 2005 (PA)

“Frankie is a wonderful jockey, he always has been. He’s a fabulous rider and a great fellow.”

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Ed Dunlop, who teamed up with Dettori for big-race wins with the mares Snow Fairy, Ouija Board and Lailani:

All smiles for the Snow Fairy team following the 2012 Irish Champion Stakes
All smiles for the Snow Fairy team following the 2012 Irish Champion Stakes (PA)

“He’s been a wonderful ambassador, he’s a wonderful jockey and is a great person, There’s no-one quite like Frankie!

“He’s ridden Group One winners for us and for many other other people. And we all wish him a very happy birthday.

“He’s ridden Lailani, Ouija Board, Snow Fairy – who were all great horses for me. He’s hard to get hold of now, but we’ve loved having him riding our horses.”

American trainer Wesley Ward, who uses Dettori whenever he can, particularly at Royal Ascot, with horses like Lady Aurelia and Campanelle:

Frankie Dettori celebrates victory in Queen Mary Stakes with Lady Aurelia in 2016
Frankie Dettori celebrates victory in Queen Mary Stakes with Lady Aurelia in 2016 (David Davies/PA)

“I’m 52 and Frankie is 50 – he sure does look a lot younger than me!

“I hope he keeps going. He’s the greatest jockey in the world, that’s for sure, and has accomplished more than anyone.

“Long live the King!”

Peter Chapple-Hyam, trainer of Dettori’s first Derby winner Authorized:

He had to wait until his 15th attempt, but Authorized gave Frankie Dettori a Derby at last in 2007
He had to wait until his 15th attempt, but Authorized gave Frankie Dettori a Derby at last in 2007 (Rebecca Naden/PA)

“He’s a fantastic jockey who has stood the test of time.

“I think I used him as a 7lb claimer and I remember him winning a maiden on Dr Devious (in 1991).

“I was very confident Authorized was in good form going into the Derby. I suffer with panic attacks and anxiety, but the good thing going to Epsom was nobody wanted to speak to me as everyone wanted to speak to Frankie, so me and the horse could go there nice and easy.

“He’s been superb and age has certainly not stopped his ability – he’s riding better than ever.”

Ray Cochrane, Dettori’s long-time friend and former agent:

Ray Cochrane received a bravery award for saving Frankie Dettori's life in a plane crash
Ray Cochrane received a bravery award for saving Frankie Dettori’s life in a plane crash (John Stillwell/PA)

“It’s hard to believe he’s 50, although it does seem a lifetime ago when we first introduced to each other at Luca’s.

“He’s still doing well for an old boy! He’s a brilliant jockey and has been a great ambassador for the sport – he’s the best.”

Sir Michael Stoute, who has combined with Dettori to win big races all over the world:

Sir Michael Stoute hugs Frankie Dettori after Conduit won the St Leger
Sir Michael Stoute hugs Frankie Dettori after Conduit won the St Leger (John Giles/PA)

“Frankie has a perfect physique in addition to which he is a gifted horseman with a very competitive nature. It is a good mix!”

McCoy full of emotion following death of Pat Smullen

Sir Anthony McCoy struggled to overcome his emotions when paying tribute to Pat Smullen, who died at the age of 43 on Tuesday.

Smullen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018, with his death coming exactly a year after the nine-times champion Irish Flat jockey persuaded McCoy to come out of retirement to ride in a charity race at the Curragh.

“He was a wonderful man. It’s very hard, it’s very hard on the family. It’s just a tragic time, it’s heartbreaking,” McCoy told Sky Sports Racing.

“We served our apprenticeships around a similar time. His was a lot more successful than mine was, so I’d known him a long time.

“Paying a compliment to him as a rider, he took over from as good a rider as I have ever seen in Mick Kinane (at Dermot Weld’s) and you wouldn’t have known. That is how good Pat Smullen was. You can try to think about races he maybe should have won – there aren’t any.

“It’s just horrifically sad. I spent a long time crying last night.”

Sir Anthony McCoy rolled back the years to ride in Pat Smullen's charity race last year
Sir Anthony McCoy rolled back the years to ride in Pat Smullen’s charity race last year (Niall Carson/PA)

Smullen convinced McCoy to take part in the Pat Smullen Champions Race For Cancer Trials in Ireland last September, and he rose to the task when making all the running on Quizical at the Curragh.

The 20-times champion jumps jockey beat other legends of the turf such as Ruby Walsh and Johnny Murtagh, on a day that helped Smullen raise over €2.5million for charity.

“It was very special,” said McCoy.

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“I know he said that some of us were harder to persuade to ride than others, and it did take me a bit of time to think about it because I was a bit unfit at the time and worried about making a show of myself.

“But because it was for Pat Smullen and for such a special cause – there is no doubt it is one of the memories that will last forever in my mind. The Curragh was very special because of how the day went, the success and what he made of it. He raised the best part of three million in a very short space of time.

“It was a very memorable day and I know that he, having organised that, will have made a difference to people. It was a very special day.

Sir Anthony McCoy celebrates victory with Quizical
Sir Anthony McCoy celebrates victory with Quizical (Niall Carson/PA)

“He served his apprenticeship riding against Mick Kinane and Christy Roche. He rode with the best of them and learnt from the best. It showed what a world-class jockey he became.

“I looked at a picture this morning of a lunch in Leopardstown in February 2018. It was not long after that he was diagnosed with cancer.”

Quizical’s trainer Sheila Lavery is also finding it hard to come with the news of Smullen’s death.

“It’s just so sad and is too hard to put into words really,” she said.

“That was an amazing day at the Curragh and we all said at the time it was pure testament to Pat.

“It’s just devastating. We are all heartbroken. It’s pure despair that he was taken so young. I just can’t just begin to imagine what his family are feeling. It’s so heartbreaking.

“I think there were very few people Pat didn’t touch in some way.

“He was just one of those who treated everyone exactly the same way – the stable hands, or the owner, the trainer, everyone. He was just a really decent person.”

Pat Smullen with Sir Anthony McCoy and trainer Sheila Lavery
Pat Smullen with Sir Anthony McCoy and trainer Sheila Lavery (Niall Carson/PA)

Cancer Trials Ireland paid its own tribute the rider, hailing him “as a friend like no other” and underlining his “dramatic and unusual” degree of his fundraising efforts.

The charity detailed how Smullen’s work had resulted in nine research proposals this year that will be advanced or explored, that he had also helped raise €120,000 for ovarian and prostate cancer trials last November and earlier this year gave the go-ahead to fund a Next Generation Sequencing machine for St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin – equipment that could potentially open up treatment options for patients with all types of cancer.

CEO Eibhlín Mulroe and Professor Ray McDermott, who is Cancer Trials Ireland’s clinical lead, also pointed out Smullen’s contributions on a more personal level, making himself available for “interviews, photo calls, and phone calls – anything that might help people in a situation similar to his own”.

Pat Smullen raised millions of euros for charity
Pat Smullen raised millions of euros for charity (PA)

An open letter to the Smullen family concluded: “It is a mark of the man that he had such a wide-ranging generosity. Pat’s popularity – and humility – was and is legendary.

“It was truly remarkable, and inspiring, to see that these qualities can coexist with the drive and determination it takes to reach the very top of his demanding sport.

“Our thoughts, today and always, are with Pat’s wife Frances, his children Hannah, Paddy and Sarah, and his wider family.

“Clinical trials offer patients very real, tangible, important benefits – but they can also provide something as vital as it is intangible: Hope. That is Pat’s real gift to the people who come after him, who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“The outpouring of love and support his efforts have generated give hope to us all.”