Hallandale Beach, Fla.
On a farewell tour that will cover America and Europe en route to a last stop at the Breeders’ Cup, Frankie Dettori will travel plenty this year on Memory Lane. Anyone who has the good fortune of sharing some time with him will be more than willing to drive him there.
All the while he is making new memories. Like the one he will add Saturday afternoon at Gulfstream Park. That is where he will ride Last Samurai in the Grade 1, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
It will mark the first time that Dettori, he of 78 wins at Royal Ascot and 14 at the Breeders’ Cup and his magnificent seven in one day in 1996, will ride for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Click here for Gulfstream Park entries and results.
Not for lack of trying. Thinking back on his early days breaking into the game as a teenage bug boy in the late ’80s at Santa Anita.
“I remember walking into his office 35 years ago,” Dettori told Horse Racing Nation this week. “I asked if I could gallop some horses. He kind of looked at me up and down and said that he was fully staffed. … He’s probably had a million people walking through that door. I’m pretty sure that he won’t remember that.”
Copy that. When Lukas was asked about it Friday at Oaklawn, he had no recollection of it. It was not like the kid from Italy was handing out calling cards declaring his future status as a racing icon.
“If he did come by my barn, I probably would have been encouraging to him,” Lukas said.
Zoom ahead not even half a lifetime for one man and nearly a full career later for the other.
Although Lukas, 87, will be watching from Arkansas, he will be the trainer of record Saturday when Dettori, 52, races Last Samurai in the Pegasus.
“Now how amazing?” Dettori said. “Thirty five years later, I’m riding for him in the biggest race.”
“He was the best man for the job who was available to ride Last Samurai,” Lukas said.
A 5-year-old Malibu Moon horse who is a two-time stakes winner, Last Samurai was assigned 20-1 odds on the morning line. If he were to pull off the upset Saturday, it would give Lukas one of the biggest wins he ever had at Gulfstream Park.
The same goes for Dettori. Not that the sample size is huge.
Including two races this week, he has a lifetime record of 14: 2-0-3 at both the old and new Gulfstream. One of those two victories was bigger than the Pegasus. He rode 8-5 favorite Daylami to victory in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Turf, the first of his record five triumphs in what is now America’s richest grass race.
|Dettori: Gulfstream Park||Horse||Surf.||Place||Earnings|
|Feb. 6, 1999|
|Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1)||Lend a Hand||Turf||4th||$56,000|
|BC Filly & Mare Turf (G1)||Zomaradah||Turf||3rd||$128,400|
|Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1)||Daylami||Turf||1st||$2,040,000|
|Jan. 26, 2018|
|Claiming||Izzy the Warrior||Dirt||6th||$260|
|Allowance OC||Driver’s Girl||Dirt||7th||$440|
|Jan. 27, 2018|
|W. L. McKnight Hcp. (G3)||Infinite Wisdom||Turf||8th||$2,000|
|Pegasus World Cup (G1)||Toast of New York||Dirt||12th||$650,000|
|Jan. 26, 2019|
|Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1)||Delta Prince||Turf||3rd||$575,521|
|Pegasus World Cup (G1)||Kukulkan||Dirt||11th||$200,000|
|Jan. 25, 2020|
|Fred W. Hooper (G3)||Seven Trumpets||Dirt||13th||$1,500|
|Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1)||Without Parole||Turf||11th||$0|
|Maiden OC, race 9||Naa Dudette||Turf||5th||$430|
|Alw OC, race 1||Siempre Elegante||Turf|
|Alw OC, race 3||Corelli||Turf|
|Handicap, race 4||Love Her Lots||AW|
|Alw OC, race 5||Nerves of Steel||Turf|
|Handicap, race 7||Smokin’ T||AW|
|W. L. McKnight (G3), race 9||Pao Alto||Turf|
|Fred W. Hooper (G3), race 10||Twelve Volt Man||Dirt|
|Pegasus Turf (G1), race 12||Hurricane Dream||Turf|
|Pegasus WC (G1), race 13||Last Samurai||Dirt|
|Totals 14: 2-0-3||Turf 9: 2-0-3 Dirt 5: 0-0-0||$3,671,551|
Since he is based this winter in California, this week might be Dettori’s last time coming to Gulfstream Park. After single starts Wednesday and Thursday, he was booked by his U.S. agent Ron Anderson for rides with as many as seven different trainers in nine of the 13 races on Saturday’s card.
Before he mounts Last Samurai, he will be reunited with Hurricane Dream (15-1), a 6-year-old who is making his U.S. debut for trainer Graham Motion. In September, the Hurricane Cat gelding finished a close second in a Group 2 race in Germany with Francis-Henri Graffard doing the training – and Dettori doing the riding.
Dettori is not merely making cameo appearances riding into the sunset in the 37th year of his racing career. It seems like every owner and trainer wants a piece of him.
“I didn’t expect it was going to go down so well with everybody,” he said. “Obviously having Ron Anderson as an agent helps. I’ve rode for a million varieties of trainers in California so far, and I’m riding for another variety of trainers on Saturday at Gulfstream. I didn’t expect to have this kind of impact. That’s why perhaps I had cold feet about doing it before.”
Cold feet? Oh, yes. Standing near the edge of the saddling area on a warm South Florida afternoon, Dettori admitted he was reluctant to leave his wildly successful career in Europe to race more than the occasional big day in America. A full winter’s return to Santa Anita was not on his bucket list.
“No. I’ll be honest with you. It just happened,” he said. “Now that I’m a month-and-a-half into it, I wish I had done it 10 years ago.”
He said that with a laugh that was not joking but rather with the delight of being in the moment.
“I’m having an amazing time,” Dettori said. “I get a great reception from everyone. I’m really enjoying it. If I have one regret, I should have done it before. I’m enjoying this period. It’s going well, and may it long continue.”
Dettori did not waste any time finding his way to the winner’s circle this winter. On opening day Dec. 26 at Santa Anita, he rode Country Grammer to victory for Bob Baffert in the San Antonio (G2), one of three times he got to the winner’s circle that afternoon to perform his triumphant, trademark leap. It is racing’s answer to the Air Jordan logo.
The analogies to other sports are not lost on Dettori. Going from a basketball reference to a baseball analogy that he may not hear much outside America, he has not lost anything off his fastball. As quickly as he accepted the compliment, he offered some perspective using the more European game of soccer.
“I’ll give you a classic example,” he said. “Look at (Cristiano) Ronaldo at the World Cup. He was playing one minute, and he was at the bench the next. In racing you can go from top to bottom in the click of a finger. At the moment I’m 52. I’ll be 53 in December. I’m still physically sharp enough to compete with the best, and I want to be remembered that way. I don’t want to be remembered that, ‘He has gone one game too many.’”
In Great Britain, where he has won three flat championships, Dettori rode 200 times last year, won 37 races and amassed earnings of $4,592,061, according to the current rate of exchange. Across Europe his six Group 1 wins came with Inspiral in the Royal Ascot Coronation and the Jacques le Marois, Chaldean in the Dewhurst, Kinross in the Forêt and British Champion Sprint and Emily Upjohn in the British Champion Fillies & Mares.
When Dettori and Country Grammer finished first last month at Santa Anita, the result provided the other bookend in a year that got rolling when the two of them won the Dubai World Cup (G1). That was the same night Dettori rode Lord North to victory in the Dubai Turf (G1).
“I’ve still got the rides,” Dettori said. “I’ve still got the passion. I can do myself justice and give my owners and my horses the best I can.”
His to-do list looks pretty much done. It would take some careful examination of the fine print to find the entries that did not have check marks.
“I rode in the Kentucky Derby once,” Dettori said, remembering his sixth-place finish with China Visit in 2000. “I never won a Melbourne Cup. I’ve only got one Group 1 missing in England. It’s the July Cup. It’s quite ironic. It’s my hometown, Newmarket. Those three things, obviously, but in general I did what I wanted to do. The championships, the Group 1s and so on and so forth. I don’t think I left much on the field, and I’m trying to enjoy this last year, too.”
His wife and five grown children may see more of him in the short-term future. Dettori said he expected to do racing commentary for ITV in the U.K., and he would explore the ownership side of the sport. But training? No.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “I haven’t got the patience.”
He said the same thing has been true on his vacations.
“Even when I’m on the beach, I have to go for a walk.”
Call 2023, then, a valedictory more than a farewell tour. For the son of the retired Gianfranco Dettori, himself an accomplished jockey who won 13 championships in Italy, the decision to start and end the final year of his career at Santa Anita gave him the opportunity to go out on his terms.
“I decided to give myself a year notice, say last good-byes without rushing to everybody else,” he said. “I didn’t just want to stop point blank. I’m mentally preparing myself for the next step. I started in California. I’m here in Florida now. Then obviously I’ll go to Saudi, Dubai, and then go do by good-byes in Europe, obviously my home country Italy, and I thought it would be quite fitting to finish at the Breeders’ Cup.”
Maybe with the exclamation point of a flying leap in November that would be at once celebratory and wistful.
“I try not to be too sad,” Dettori said. “I’d like to carry on forever, but life is not like that.”
Jennifer Hoyt of Oaklawn provided the Lukas quotes for this story.