x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dettori's racing class

The popular rider Frankie Dettori has become a household name thanks to his flamboyant nature.

The popular rider has become a household name thanks to his flamboyant nature.
The popular rider has become a household name thanks to his flamboyant nature.

Who do you think is sport's all-time best? Each week, we will profile a candidate, inviting you to decide who should top our list of 50. All participants will be entered into a draw for the weekly adidas prize and an end-of-contest Etihad Holidays four-day trip for two, including business class flights and accommodation, to a mystery location. We will reveal the full 50 at the end, but this week William Johnson looks at the jockey Frankie Dettori.

The flamboyance of Frankie Dettori has thrilled racegoers all over the world since the little Italian maestro's emergence as one of the best jockeys his sport has produced, but few of his army of admirers expected him to kiss one of fellow riders on the lips. There was every reason for Milan's favourite son, christened Lanfranco by his famous Sardinian father Gianfranco, to go overboard with his display of unbridled emotion. He had waited 15 long and frustrating years to savour the glory of steering home the winner of the Epsom Derby.

A colt called Authorized provided Dettori with his magical moment last year, which was ecstatically received by a massive crowd in his adopted country of England - he is also a frequent and popular performer in the UAE primarily as stable jockey for Godolphin - and in true Dettori fashion the occasion was milked for all it was worth. The 5ft 4in Dettori is renowned for his acrobatic dismounts from horses that dwarf him, but he was not going to stop there. He made a run for Mick Kinane, the rugged Irish jockey who had been a part-breeder of the Classic winner, and sealed the victory with that startling kiss.

Kinane, crestfallen at finishing last in the 228th running of the world's most famous horse race on the reasonably well-fancied Archipenko, knew what it meant to his giggling counterpart, having won the big race twice, and took the embarrassment on the cheek, so to speak. All that remains now for one of the world's most popular jockeys is to win the race in the colours of Skeikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Dubai-based Godolphin operation. He has done the next best thing by ensuring that the Dubai World Cup, the richest race on the calendar, stayed on home soil (home dirt to be precise) on three occasions to the delight of packed Nad Al Sheba crowds.

An exhilarating triumph on the appropriately named Dubai Millennium in 2000 was followed by Moon Ballad (2003) and Electrocutionist (2006) passing the post first in Godolphin's distinctive blue silks. Dettori, who followed up his Epsom triumph by winning the French equivalent Le Prix du Jockey Club the following afternoon, has been a truly international performer throughout his fantastic career. Three Arc de Triomphes in Paris, three Breeders Cup Turfs in the United States and three Japan Cups figure prominently on his impressive hit list which began with his first Classic win in Germany in 1991.

His first experience of crossing the winning line in the lead came in his native Italy when he was sweet 16, four years after his father had bought him a palomino pony on which he rode every night after school. By the time of his first victory he was already a year into his apprenticeship in England with the Newmarket-based trainer Luca Cumani and before long was appointed stable jockey. A committed Anglophile shortly after leaving his homeland, Dettori made a strong declaration of his intentions to rise to the top of his profession by becoming the first teenager since the legendary Lester Piggott to ride 100 winners in a season. That precocious feat was a key to a prestigious appointment in 1993 as retained jockey to Sheikh Mohammed and he immediately repaid the faith of his Emirati employers by notching 233 winners in his first season to claim the first of three British jockeys' championships.

Dettori became a real household name, though, for his remarkable achievement at Ascot in 1996 when he rode all seven winners to the delight and financial gain of his hordes of followers. The last of those magnificent seven made a lasting impression on Dettori. When the horse retired, he claimed it and made it his family pet to the delight of his wife Catherine and five children. His other great loves are food - not ideal when his natural weight is 9st 9lb and he often had to ride when weighing as low as 8st 6lb - and football.

In 2004 he opened a London restaurant called Frankie's Bar and three years later opened Frankie's Italian Lounge and Grill in Dubai's Al Fattan Marine Tower. He has been an avid supporter of Arsenal since forsaking the San Siro Stadium in his home city. Dettori, 37, was almost snatched from an adoring horse racing fraternity when he and fellow jockey Ray Cochrane were involved in a light aircraft crash which killed the pilot as they attempted to make the short journey from Newmarket to Goodwood.

Remarkably Dettori, who has avoided serious injury throughout his career in the saddle, escaped that day with a fractured ankle and a sore thumb. Another rare black day in the colourful life of Dettori came when thieves broke into his home two years ago and stole a collection of his memorabilia, including his cherished medal to commemorate the honour of being made a Member of the British Empire. wjohnston@thenational.ae Cast your vote and enter a draw for a weekly Dh500 adidas voucher and a dream trip with Etihad Holidays. If you think Johnson is the all-time best, text G25 to 2337 Texts cost Dh5 and voting will end at midnight on Thursday October 9.