x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Frankie Dettori, flying high once more

Nearly 10 years after surviving a plane crash, the jockey, who is racing at Meydan tomorrow, believes that he has finally overcome his fear of flying in small aircraft.

Frankie Dettori has been Godolphin's premier jockey since 1993 and will ride Mastery in tomorrow's big race at Meydan Racecourse.
Frankie Dettori has been Godolphin's premier jockey since 1993 and will ride Mastery in tomorrow's big race at Meydan Racecourse.

Nearly 10 years after surviving a plane crash, Frankie Dettori believes that he has finally overcome his fear of flying in small aircraft. A week ago, the jockey took his wife, Catherine, on a surprise birthday trip to the Maldives. The last leg of their journey was in a seaplane. "A friend asked us to come and see him. He only told me at the last minute that I had to take a seaplane to get there. In the back of my mind, I was a little bit afraid, but it's 10 years on June 1 since the crash.

"We flew early morning and I was quite tired so it wasn't too bad. I think I have conquered my demon, although I still think I would find it difficult to get into a smaller plane." The 39-year-old Italian and Ray Cochrane, a fellow jockey, were on board a Piper Seneca that crashed on take-off at Newmarket in eastern England on its way to Goodwood in 2000. The pilot, Patrick Mackay, 52, was killed and Dettori suffered a fractured right ankle. Cochrane had bruising to his face and head.

Dettori's reluctance to fly in small planes has posed problems for a jockey who often has to get from track to track in a hurry. He has turned to helicopters."They are the only thing I haven't crashed yet." In the UAE for tomorrow's Dubai World Cup, Dettori visited his new restaurant, Frankie's, at the Fairmont Hotel, Abu Dhabi, for the first time this week. He will be wearing the Godolphin colours in all eight races tomorrow. Dettori has been the stable's premier jockey since 1993 and is excited about racing against the world's best at the new Meydan course.

"If I win one I will be happy. It's like the Olympics. Sheikh Mohammed [bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai] has created the best meeting in the world. "It's unique in that you get all the best horses from every corner of the world. In terms of position, Dubai is good for everybody - Americans and South Americans can come along with Europeans, horses from Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.

"It's smack in the middle. That makes competition much more difficult as everyone wants a piece of the pie." In the big race, Dettori will ride the 2009 St Leger winner, Mastery, the horse that just edged out its stable mate Kite Wood. Even after being crowned British Champion jockey three times and winning all seven races on a single day at Ascot, Dettori still gets nervous before a big meeting. "Everyone expects so much of me and it goes without saying that there is extra pressure. But that's what makes me carry on, I like the pressure and I actually need it to make me better."

Dettori first met Sheikh Mohammed when he was about 18. "When Godolphin was created I got the phone call from the Sheikh's manager. I had just finished racing at the end of the season and I was sitting at home when the call came to go and see him at the stud. "He said 'we would like you to come and work for us full-time'. I didn't realise what I was embarking upon. We shook hands and that was it. "He knows more about horses than me. He has this great passion and love for horses and he has pushed racing boundaries in every way and done things that everybody thought was not possible in terms of horses travelling, training and cross-breeding."

Dettori's favourite ride was Dubai Millennium, the winner of the Dubai World Cup by five lengths in 2000. The horse, regarded as the best of the decade, died of grass sickness a year after being put out to stud. Another horse with which Dettori has a special relationship is Fujiama Crest, the seventh of the seven winners he rode at Ascot on that momentous day in September 1996. "It was the worst race of the day, a two-mile race so the horse wasn't that valuable.

"He went jumping after that but he couldn't jump at all so he lost all his value. The guy who used to look after him called me and said he was in a sale in Wales, and they usually end up in bad hands. "He said if I was interested, why don't I buy it. I rang the trainer and he said if you give me £2,000 (Dh11,000) you can have him. I said 'put him in a horse box and send him home', so now he's my house pet since 1999.

"I rode him foxhunting a couple of times, but now he's old and lives in the field. I give him a carrot once in a while and he's happy." Dettori and Catherine have five children - Leo, 10, Ella, nine, Mia, seven, Tallulah, six and Rocco, five. All five ride and have their own ponies, but Rocco is the one most likely to follow his father's footsteps. Their father intends to continue racing as long as he can.

"I can see myself riding for another seven to 10 years easily, as long as I have my health, a good job and still enjoy what I'm doing." If he wins tomorrow he will undoubtedly do his famous flying dismount. "I think I have created a rod for my back. If I don't do it now the kids boo me so I have to do it." Dettori is clearly enjoying his life and well-earned fame as one of the world's most popular jockeys.

"I am at stage three in my life. Stage one, you start with dreams; stage two, is to fulfil your dreams; and now I'm at stage three, I'm enjoying it. I've done it all and I'm actually enjoying it." @Email:newsdesk@thenational.ae