Written by Denise Marray
World-class jockey Frankie Dettori reflects on riding for Al Shaqab and the special atmosphere at the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
Meeting Frankie Dettori in his beautiful Newmarket home reveals a man at the very peak of his talents and clearly relishing the challenges ahead as the retained rider with Al Shaqab Racing, Qatar. Career highlights include being named champion jockey three times, riding a record-breaking ‘Magnificent Seven’ winners in one afternoon at Ascot in 1996, and securing hundreds of victories at the highest Group or Grade One level.
The last few weeks have seen him storm to victory with impressive wins at the Epsom Derby on Golden Horn and the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) on Star of Seville. Both horses are trained by John Gosden whose reunion with Dettori has proved fruitful for all parties.
So after such stellar success – what drives him? He is quick to answer: “It’s exciting when you get on a great horse. It’s like a kid jumping in a Ferrari. You never get sick of winning; you want to win again and again and again. Even if I have won every big race in the world, I still want to win them again. That’s where I am at.”
Dettori famously spent 18 years as lead jockey for Godolphin Racing, where he rode 110 Group One winners, and 943 winners in total, but that came to an end in 2012 when he decided to go freelance.
He does not hide his feelings about the break with Godolphin: “When I split with Godolphin I was upset, but you never know what is around the corner. I dealt with it; I have a really good family and you move on. I realised I have still got at least a good five years left in my career. I didn’t want to sit here in ten years’ time thinking ‘I wish I had left’ and ‘I wish I had gone out on my own’. It was a big decision that I had to make – and I did, and at least I can sit here and say at least I gave it a go.” In fact, for a jockey of his calibre, it’s not so surprising that his freelance career didn’t last long. He remembers very well his first meeting with His Excellency Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Al-Thani, one of the backers of Al Shaqab.
“Just out of the blue, I was asked to ride a couple of horses for His Excellency Sheikh Joaan. We met very briefly in the paddock at Ascot, and then a month later, I was asked to go to France to meet him and an opportunity to work for him was offered. It was the same day that he was finalising the purchase of Trêve (the brilliant champion filly). It was very exciting. He is a very charming man and you can tell he has lots of ambitions. He is passionate about racing,” Dettori says.
Dettori is relishing the prospect of riding at the Qatar Goodwood Festival, affectionately known as ‘Glorious Goodwood’, running from July 28 to August 1. This great festival of racing has entered an exciting new phase through a 10-year partnership with Qatar, and Dettori, as the retained rider for Al Shaqab, will bring his considerable experience to the famous South Downs racetrack.
“I had my first winner at Goodwood in 1987. Your first win is the one you always remember. I’ve got some good memories – I’ve ridden over 100 winners at Goodwood, including most of the big races. Goodwood is very unique because it runs on the crest of some hill tops – what looks flat on the TV is actually very undulating. For the spectators, it’s beautiful because you are on the top of a hill and looking out over the Downs. It is a magical panorama. For a jockey, Goodwood either loves you or hates you; it’s very unpredictable – it’s not straight – it’s not flat – sometimes you can have bad draws or horses who can’t handle the track. It can all go wrong very quickly. You have to have 12 sets of eyes,” he says.
You don’t just need ‘12 sets of eyes’, but also considerable skill and fitness to compete at the top level. Dettori has a home gym, and it is clear that he leads a highly disciplined life when it comes to diet and exercise.
He credits his father, who was a champion jockey, with giving him the right advice and encouragement to pursue his dreams.
“My father is a very big influence. As a kid you always look at your parents for guidance and also for status of life. I went to school in Milan; most of my mates’ parents either worked at the local factory or in the shops in the neighbourhood and lived in government flats. We were very lucky – my Dad was already a champion jockey – we were the only ones in the village who lived in a villa, and he was driving a Mercedes. Everybody worshipped him because he was winning all the time, and I thought – ‘I want to be like you’. That was easy enough for me to say, but he took me seriously and he sat me down and told me it wasn’t easy – and he paved the path for where I am now by sending me to England.”
Dettori, whose five children each have their own ponies stabled in his yard at home, clearly sees his wife and family as the vital anchors in his hectic life.
He is now enjoying a more settled routine as his role with Al Shaqab will be based in the UK. “Now that we have more horses here, we have another jockey to cover me in France. So now I don’t have to go back and forth; it’s better for me and it makes sense because I can’t be in two places at once,” he comments.
“When I first started, His Excellency Sheikh Joaan had 40 horses in France and 10 in England. Two years down the line, he has 60 in France and 100 in England. He has bought some brood mares and stallions. He is developing big, and we had great success straight away.”
Dettori is noted for his winning personality and quick wit. Asked to describe his ideal horse – he doesn’t miss a beat: “My ideal horse is the one that runs the fastest!” He’s definitely one to watch when he takes to the famous Goodwood track this summer.
A typical morning
“I get up at about 5.30am, have an espresso, and get on the gallops for 6am. I’m finished by 7am or 7.30am; I come back and quickly read the Racing Post to look at my races and the form, and then I go to bed for an hour, and then wake up and do an hour on the treadmill – walking and running. I can do my exercise and lose weight and also watch the replays. I do that most days – some days when I am very tired I use the sauna rather than walking or running.
“In the morning I eat yoghurt, nuts, and honey, but I would be lying to say I never eat a piece of chocolate!”
Top tip from Frankie Dettori
“I think stress makes you old. I try to keep myself positive and surround myself with positive people. I have a good frame of mind. Of course I have my bad days, but if you try to have a positive outlook on life I think that keeps you young.”
Goodwood, one of the finest country estates in the world, is unique in offering an onsite hotel, fine dining restaurants, championship golf courses, a fleet of aeroplanes, horse racing, and celebrated motor sport events. It is home to the world famous Festival of Speed, Goodwood Revival, and Glorious Goodwood.
The Festival of Speed celebrates the very best from the past and present of motoring and motor sports; pre-war Bentleys and Mercedes to the V8 F1 cars of the previous generation, motorcycles, both young and old, to the latest supercars being unveiled by leading manufacturers.
The Goodwood Revival is a three-day festival held each September at Goodwood Circuit for the types of road racing cars and motorcycles that would have competed during the circuit’s original period: 1948–1966. It is one of the world’s most popular motor race meetings and the only UK event which recreates the golden era of motor sport from the 1950s and 1960s.
The Goodwood Members’ Meeting is a new style of motor racing event, conceived by Lord March, to recreate the atmosphere and camaraderie of the original British Automobile Racing Club (BARC) Members’ Meetings held ‘in period’ at Goodwood through the 1950s and 1960s.
The Qatar Goodwood Festival, or ‘Glorious Goodwood’, is a must for horse racing enthusiasts who enjoy the wonderful setting on the Sussex Downs and top-class action.
The schedule is set out follows:
Tuesday, July 28, 2015: The Qatar Lennox Stakes, Group 2
Wednesday, July 29, 2015: The Qatar Vintage Stakes, Group 2, The Qatar Sussex Stakes, Group 1
Thursday, July 30, 2015: The Qatar Richmond Stakes, Group 2, The Qatar Goodwood Cup, Group 2
Friday, July 31, 2015: The Qatar King George Stakes, Group 2
Saturday, August 1, 2015: The Qatar Nassau Stakes, Group 1, The Qatar Stewards’ Cup (Handicap)