Frankie Dettori started the season quashing rumours about imminent retirement, now the sport needs him to stay in the saddle.
In the week of the passing of John McCririck, Frankie Dettori is horseracing's most recognisable face. At 48 years of age, those questions about when he was retiring looked legitimate. After another weekend of Group one wins, it feels like racing cannot afford to lose Dettori.
Frankie rode against his own father Gianfranco at the start of his career and hopes to experience the same with his son Rocco. Were he to achieve that dream, he'd be in the saddle to the age of 50. Racing bosses would have no problem with that. The bookies might though.
Dettori secured more Group One glory at the weekend when Enable returned to incredible scenes when winning the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. He followed up on Sunday with last year's champion Juvenile Too Darn Hot returning to form in the Prix Jean Prat.
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) July 6, 2019
Those wins were hardly out of turn, Dettori was crowned top jockey at Ascot last month. The sixth time in his career he picked up the award. He has won seven Group Ones already this year. The flow won't stop either. Enable could line up in the King George at Ascot if not her, Frankie could keep the ride on Crystal Ocean.
Goodwood follows shortly after when Stradivarius attempts to defend his crown. The Sussex Stakes market is jointly topped by Too Darn Hot and King of Comedy. Frankie has ridden both to victory this year. More big wins are inevitable.
Willie Mullins coined the term 'boutique jockey' for Ruby Walsh. It was a reference to keeping Walsh specifically for when he was most useful, on the biggest days. Dettori has brought that skill to a different level. He deosn't need to ride every day. he needs to be kept fresh. Like the proverbial star being wrapped in cotton wool.
Frankie has only ridden 18 times in the last 14 days, nine of them were winners. Three of the winners were Group Ones, there was a Group Two and two Listed winners in there too. The quality of performance is outstanding. Particularly given there are no racing festivals on.
For comparison, Danny Tudhope, who is having a breakthrough year, had 19 winners from 68 mounts in the last fortnight. He only rode in three pattern races in the same timeframe Dettori had half a dozen pattern winners. Tudhope may be an unfair comparison, consider then, Ryan Moore. The Ballydoyle number one rider has seen plenty of Frankie's backside this season, regularly finishing second to the Italian. In the last two weeks, Moore has taken 35 rides with only three finishing first past the post.
There has been some criticism of Moore of late but his figures help illustrate how devastating Frankie's numbers are.
It has not always been so straightforward for the flamboyant Italian, there have been cocaine bans and public fallouts. Dettori lost big retainers. He was the Godolphin number one for nearly two decades, synonymous with their biggest global wins like Dubai Millenium, Dubawi, Swain, Daylami, and Sakhee. He left in 2013, saying "My position in the stable has changed a little bit and I need a new challenge."
More recently he was dropped by Al Shaqaab racing in a global restructuring of their organisation. His latest partnership with John Gosden has led to an incredible autumn to Dettori's career. It's not his first dance with Gosden, the two combined for one of the great handicap gambles with Halling in the 1994 Cambridgeshire.
This time around the wins are bigger with stars like Golden Horn, Enable, Stradivarius, Lah Ti Dar, and Too Darn Hot. The winners are not confined to runners from Clarehaven Stables. Andre Fabre, Sir Michael Stoute, Martin Meade, William Haggas, Michael Bell and Charlie Hills have all been able to call on the Italian's services for Pattern race success in the last three seasons.
Dettori's popularity goes beyond the trainers that use him, Ryan Moore is just as in-demand were his services to become available. Dettori is arguably racing's only true public star. The sport rarely gets coverage on mainstream UK Media, unless there is a scandal or if Dettori does something spectacular. He is the only jockey to ride all the winners on a single card, as was the case on Champions Day at Ascot, before it was even called Champions Day, back in 1996.
That day led to a stint on 'A Question of Sport' as a team captain, whilst becoming the most recognisable face in the sport. That has been the case for over 20 years now.
Such is the pull of Dettori to punters that leading UK bookmakers have severely restricted punters attempting to place Dettori's rides into multiples, such were the potential losses. At Royal Ascot Bet 365 and Skybet stopped punters perming Dettori's mounts while last Saturday Coral would not allow punters to 'take prices' on more than three of Frankie's mounts when placed in accumulators.
The newsworthiness of Dettori is constant. On Tuesday he was the front page splash on the Racing Post for the fourth consecutive day. Killarney even grabbed a few column inches by inviting the Italian along. He will ride in the feature Cairn Rouge Stakes next Wednesday at the Kerry venue.
More front pages will follow this season should the likes of Enable and Stradivarius continue to do their thing on the track. No horse has ever won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe three times and there will surely be a temptation to retire Stradivarius and get him to the paddocks sooner rather than later.
Dettori has been lucky that every time one superstar left another has come along for him to sit on. Racing though does not appear to have such a vast bank of publicly recognisable and digestible talent. Who is the second most famous person in racing after Dettori? Who is the next potential celebrity crossover star for racing to push mainstream? I'll wait.
Many have the talent in the saddle but not the charisma. Some have the personality but the talent deficiency is obvious. The equine talent conveyer belt rolls on but who can possibly fill Dettori's void?