LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – Frankie Dettori says instinct rather than an historic third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Enable this year will be the decisive factor in telling him when to call time on his legendary riding career.
The 49-year-old Italian’s flying dismounts, his unabashed display of emotions in victory or defeat and his association with Enable has given racing a much-needed high-profile superstar.
His resilience in also cheating death in a plane crash in 2000, and a failed doping test in 2012 has also earned widespread admiration, though he says of the latter episode “when you are cornered you fight”.
“I am 49 now, this (his body) is what decides for me how long I can keep going,” he told AFP in a wide-ranging interview conducted in the Hari Hotel in central London.
“In every sport, it’s actually the sports who retires you, once the people realise that maybe you’re not good enough to do it, you’re getting too old, and slowly you start to lose your business.”
Dettori looked far from cooked last year as he racked up 19 Group One wins and reached the landmark of 250 career Group One victories on Champions Day at Ascot in October — the racecourse he calls “home” and where in 1996 he memorably went through the seven-race card.
“At the moment I’m still at the top of my game, I’m still riding the best horses so I’m going to carry on,” he said.
“I have no set date, realistically it’s going to be between three and five years because 50 is the magical age, so fingers crossed, I get another few years.”
– ‘I should have been dead’ –
Dettori has forged close bonds with dual Arc heroine Enable’s trainer John Gosden, and former jockey and now his agent Ray Cochrane.
Cochrane it was who pulled him from the wreckage of the plane when it crashed at Newmarket on the way to Goodwood racecourse in Sussex on June 1, 2000.
“I was lucky that I didn’t die in the crash itself,” said Dettori.
“I broke my leg and I was lucky that Ray managed to drag me out of the plane and then it exploded. The pilot died, so I was lucky twice.
“We’ve been through something that you can’t explain, put into words, the experience. It was very hard to get out of it, it took me two years.
“We hardly ever talked about that (with other people) because it’s something that only me and him understand.
“I should have been dead so I have to thank God I am still here.”
Dettori puts his astonishing success with Gosden — who is 19 years his senior and in terms of temperament the polar opposite — down to a natural chemistry.
“John can read me like a book because he knows me so well.
“So he can put an arm around me when I’m feeling a bit low or he can wring my neck when I get too cocky, so we have this great working relationship.
“I feel very comfortable riding for him.
“I feel respected and loved. I feel much better when part of a team.”
– ‘The little things you remember’ –
Together they have been an almost unstoppable force in the past few years.
Latterly with Enable, who Dettori says has “taken him to places emotionally he has never been before (with a horse)”, but Golden Horn’s Derby win in 2015 was a huge moment for it made his decision to carry on after the “bad time” in 2012 worthwhile.
“I was 44 and I never thought I would get another chance to win the Derby,” he said.
“That was my biggest thrill I ever had on a horse in a race.
“To a point that when I knew I was going to win, the last 200 metres, my body felt like somebody had zapped all the energy out of me, I felt like jelly and it was an amazing feeling.
“I’ll never forget when I left (Epsom racecourse) my kids had a big banner saying ‘come on daddy, try to win it again’.”
It had taken him long enough to win his first Epsom Derby finally succeeding in his 15th attempt on Authorised in 2007.
It was the race that had inspired him to take up riding thanks to an unusual carrot being dangled in front of him by his father, 13-times Italian champion jockey Gianfranco.
He promised his then 14-year-old son if he was to win the Epsom Derby he would give him a white Piaget watch — which he left in a safe and only wore once a year to a gala dinner in Milan — he had received for being crowned Italian champion jockey.
“It became cemented into my brain as a kid winning the Derby because of that thought and true to his word when I won it he had it engraved and gave me it,” he said.
“It is such a symbol of my career.
“It has special meaning to me. That was probably the seed in my brain to become a jockey and to win the Epsom Derby.
“Amazing the little things you remember!”