Frankie Dettori said farewell to British racing in fairytale fashion as he lifted home King Of Steel in the feature Gr1 QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot on Saturday.
Sent off the 3/1 favourite, King Of Steel had work to do turning for home but Dettori galvanised his mount, who finished powerfully to run down Via Sistina (11/2) and score by three-quarters of a length.
French challenger Horizon Dore (4/1) was two lengths further back in third.
It was a significant success for the Amo Racing’s King Of Steel, who finally secured his Gr1 win after three near-misses at the highest level this term, most notably in the Derby.
The victory completed a double on the afternoon for Dettori, who was given a rapturous reception as he came back into the winner’s enclosure.
Dettori said: “My emotions are all over the place, I can’t believe it. The crowd got this horse over the line. I was doing my best on top but the feeling that I got was incredible; thanks to all of you, you made me win this race and it’s fantastic. I love you, a Hollywood script, I love you. I don’t know how to feel at the moment, I don’t know if it’s real or……it was incredible.
“I struggled from the beginning of the race. I couldn’t really get King Of Steel to travel, he was stumbling – and then he started to come good. Then I got behind Mickael [Barzalona on Horizon Dore], who I thought was the horse to beat. Then I thought, ‘Oisin [on Via Sistina] is going pretty good’, so I got on his tail. When they kicked, they left me a little bit, but King Of Steel just found a second wind, dug deep, the crowd got behind me and we got him over the line. What a feeling, I thought the first race the crowd was good but this was another level honestly, it was incredible. A fairytale ending for me, Ascot is my home.
“It is very hard to explain what I’m feeling now. I had the same surreal moment when I won my first Group One with Mark Of Esteem, when everything went dark. I know it’s quite dark anyway, so that’s not an excuse, but there’s a feeling that, ‘this can’t be right’. It is very hard to explain my feeling. I thought I would cry, but I’m too happy to cry, to be honest with you. I didn’t expect it – it’s fantastic. What a day.
“The first race was mad; this was another level, to be honest with you. It was incredible – everyone was cheering for me. This was my last race, so they were all up for it. Amazing. After the race, people were singing, ‘Oh, Frankie Dettori!’. That’s one thing I’ll miss and I can’t take to America with me – I’m fairly new over there. But it’s been memorable; from the beginning of the season, it’s been tremendous. I wanted to finish at the top and I can’t be more at the top than that. I’m very proud of my career and this year, it’s been phenomenal. Can I go and have a beer now?
“I go to Santa Anita on Wednesday. I’ll regroup, go to the States, and like I said, I’m moving there for good.”
Asked about whether, if King Of Steel stays in training, he’d like to ride him again, Dettori said: “At the moment I’m focusing on my American adventure. I’ve got to make myself well known there and be there every day. I have no plans to come back to England.”
Winning trainer Roger Varian said: “King Of Steel is a good horse, isn’t he? And a tough horse. He has run great all year. He’s done well to come from the back. Very tough. Good performance. Good ride, good effort by all the team. I haven’t really had a debrief [from Dettori] – I’ve had a few hugs, but we’d need to watch it again.
“King Of Steel is a very agile horse – I don’t think his size has stopped him; I think the ground is hard for all of them. Big engine, big set of lungs – he’s got to the line, hasn’t he? Big heart, big effort.”
Kia Joorabchian of Amo Racing said: “I am sorry, I’m so emotional. Frankie the king of Ascot, King Of Steel, he deserved that. What a ride, what a ride. Why is he retiring? What a ride. What an emotional moment, my family is here.
“I am so happy for Frankie, he deserved this more than anything in the world. To finish like that, I mean, he called me and said ‘can I ride King Of Steel?’ and I said ‘what can I say to that? of course you can’.
“It’s wonderful, what an incredible atmosphere. This is all for Frankie and he deserves it. What a career he has had and what an incredible performance. This guy King Of Steel deserves it too, he’s come second in the Derby and we’ve put him in some really tough tests and he’s come through. I am so happy for the both of them. What an amazing training performance by Roger Varian, and Alex Elliott who first bought the horse.”
George Boughey said of Via Sistina:
“She has run a blinder. Obviously, we were beaten by a superstar horse and a superstar jockey! I am delighted for Kia – he’s a big supporter of the yard. We had a bit of dinner last night and we were talking about getting the one-two and I hoped it might be the other way! But she’s a star and the best horse I’ve trained. She is in the mares’ sale, so I imagine she will go there and I would love someone to buy her and send her back, because she could win a big one. She is obviously very, very high class.”
Gr1 QIPCO Champion Stakes 2023
1 King Of Steel (Amo Racing Ltd) Roger Varian 3-9-03 Frankie Dettori 3/1F
2 Via Sistina (Mrs R G Hillen) George Boughey 5-9-04 Oisin Murphy 11/2
3 Horizon Dore (Gousserie Racing/E Gribomont/F Delaunay) Patrice Cottier FR 3-9-03 Mickael Barzalona 4/1
- Roger Varian – 4th winner on QIPCO British Champions Day
- Frankie Dettori – 11th winner on QIPCO British Champions Day