There aren’t too many jockeys who jet into a new country, get on unknown horses on an unknown track, win a Gr1 and make it look easy, but it’s all in a day’s work for Frankie Dettori.
Frankie is nearly as fast off a horse as he is on one, but we managed to catch him between engagements on Sunday afternoon to talk to the Sporting Post about his Sun Met trip.
Chatting to Frankie is very much what one might expect after watching him win a race. He is intelligent and lively and his energy and enthusiasm – even after a pretty tough schedule – are infectious. Still hoarse from celebrating his Derby victory at Kenilworth, he was full of appreciation for South Africa, our local racing and Kenilworth in particular.
Firstly, what made him decide to fly out for the Sun Met? “Last year I was offered the ride on Smart Call when Weichong Marwing hurt his back two days before the race. When I spoke to the connections, I was on holiday and felt I wasn’t fit enough to do the horse justice. It would have been unfair on me and the connections if I didn’t do well,” he explains. “In the end, she won by three lengths, so I was a little upset that I’d missed out, but it’s one of those things.”
“I do a bit of work for Bernard Kantor and Investec over in England and after a couple of wines for lunch with Bernard one day, he persuaded me to come to Cape Town for the Sun Met and because he was sponsoring the Investec Cape Derby on the same day, of course I agreed.”
A Warm SA Welcome
The Investec folk had planned a surprise welcome for Frankie at Cape Town International in the form of a large billboard inside the airport. “It was as I arrived just before immigration. It was quite embarrassing – half the wall had my face plastered across it! I was trying to keep my head down and look inconspicuous, but while I was queuing a couple of people tapped me on the shoulder to say ‘hey, that’s you !’” he laughs.
Frankie has ridden in South Africa before – perhaps most famously back in 1997 when he came over for a short tour, which was to culminate in him riding London News in the J&B Met. Unfortunately he was indisposed at the last minute, Douglas Whyte was drafted in for the ride and the rest, as they say, is history.
However, following the abortive 1997 trip, Frankie has been back to South Africa several times to participate in our local jockey challenges, but last weekend was the first time he’s ridden at the notoriously tricky Kenilworth track.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I always like a new challenge in my career and in life and it was amazing. I got good support and good rides and how appropriate to win the race that my sponsor sponsored. It was just fantastic and I’ve got to thank so many people that looked after me – I can’t name them all, but the list is long.”
Asked whether he enjoyed riding at Kenilworth, he was full of praise. “Wow, it’s such an amazing track. I walked it beforehand and the layout of the track is beautiful Also the condition and maintenance – I have to compliment the track manager and staff – it was like galloping on a snooker table.”
The configuration has been known to catch people out, but Frankie took it all in his stride. “I think of all the South African tracks that I’ve ridden at, Kenilworth is probably the closest to an English or European one. I race on this kind of track every day and found it no problem. I really enjoyed riding the track as I’m very familiar with those kinds of conditions.”
Edict Of Nantes was eye-catching on parade and seemed to produce a smooth ride in the 9 horse field. He jumped well, sat just off the pace and then sweeping into the straight, Frankie set him alight and they drew clear to what looked a comfortable win. Frankie says, “I watched his videos beforehand. The trainer was very informative, as were the managers and owners. Basically I very quickly realised that everybody was telling me that his forte was his staying power. I was also told about the horse by a few people that he was quite laid back and needed a bit of winding up. Racing at Kenilworth is fast, slow, slow, fast – it’s a bit like dancing. I knew we were going to start fast and that the pace was going to slack around the bend. The pace was quite slow in the middle of the race. I think it’s unusual for people to kick early at Kenilworth and I realised that I had to make the move first and get everyone else in trouble. I decided to use the weapon with my horse and kicked really hard at the 500m just to get everyone else in trouble and the plan worked.”
Did it feel as easy as it looked? “In fairness, I was probably a little aggressive by my standards. I was told the horse was very laid back and big and bully and that I had to stoke him up a bit. That’s quite over the top for me – I am usually more quiet in the saddle. I don’t like to punish a horse if they can’t win or place. It is my 30th year of professional riding and that whole scenario of pushing a horse just for the sake of it doesn’t appeal to me any more.”
Frankie was in top form on Saturday, treating the crowds to some top class riding, a flamboyant Derby finish and of course, his trademark flying dismount.
The SA Experience
South Africa is renowned for its hospitality – has he had a good stay? “I’ve been overwhelmed since I’ve been here. The passion for horse racing in this country is incredible. Everybody’s so passionate and loves their racing. To have a day like Saturday with all those huge sponsors – KUDA, CTS, Investec, Sun International, Mumm is just amazing. To have such a day and such a lot of money in one day! I was quite shocked at the knowledge and support and love in this country. I was often recognised in the street – it’s a bit like a soccer player scenario. There really is so much love and passion for horse racing here, I’ve been quite overwhelmed.”
Will there be any time to sight-see before he goes home? “I’ve got a friend out here with me and we had booked to go shark cage diving this week, but the closer it was getting the more nervous I was getting. Now they’ve told us the weather won’t be good enough, so it’s been cancelled, thank God!” he laughs.
He has a few more stud visits and social engagements lined up and then flies home on Tuesday. “It’s just a short visit, but it’s been wonderful and hopefully next year I will try and stay a bit longer and bring my wife to see your beautiful country.”