7 November 2004

Kieren Fallon got the last laugh at Doncaster but the Italian took the `sweetest prize of all’ 

For a while the last rites of the season depended on a Dettori family bus bringing him, wife Catherine and a dozen friends up the M1 to see him clinch his title at Doncaster. The traffic did its worst but the trek was made and, even if Frankie was beaten by main rival Kieren Fallon in the featured November Handicap, he ended the day a deeply happy man with his third British jockeys’ title.

The race itself, now for sponsorship reasons named the `Enter The £1 Million Totetentofollow November Stakes’, was a delightful cameo of a championship duel which has lit up the embers of this flat racing season. Both Fallon and Dettori worked their way through a big field, with this time the reigning champion holding the whip hand on Carte Diamond, hard though Frankie tried on the old but unlucky Distant Prospect.

Carte Diamond was giving a quick dividend for his owners for the 105,000 guineas they and trainer Brian Ellison gave for the three-year old at the horses-in-training sale last month. Sentimentalists may wince at Ellison’s earthy summary of his plans for the colt before tilting him at the Triumph Hurdle and the Ebor Handicap next season. “His balls,” Brian said, “come off on Monday.”

Family planners watching the championship ceremony earlier may have wondered if Dettori’s delightful wife, Catherine, could soon wish the same fate for her ever eager husband. For February sees the arrival of their fifth child and Leo, the oldest resplendent in his Arsenal shirt, is only five. Her rights to sainthood stretch to accompanying her husband round the world to Texas and Australia in the last seven days and, to be fair, Dettori was first in tribute.

“This championship is very much for Catherine,” he said. “It was she who said I should not hang about the house, to get out and ride more. She has supported me all the way through, we have wonderful kids and I am a very lucky guy. Of course, the big thing has been that Godolphin have had so many runners, but it is very special to be champion again. After nine years, (he was champion in 1994 and 1995) this is the sweetest of them all.”

The Godolphin statistics have been the key to his resurgence. A study of Saeed bin Suroor’s £4.3 million winnings for the trainers’ title reveals a much larger stable, including 91 two-year-olds, of whom 48 hit the target. Anyone knowing that and the fact that Dettori was in such a positive frame of mind was entitled to pitch very confidently at the 33-1 offered in some places about his title chances before the season started.

But Fallon still took some beating, he won the Derby and Oaks on North Light and Ouija Board respectively and he was still far enough ahead in early September that one bookmaker mistakenly offered me 10-1 Dettori, which was generously taken. Although Fallon looked healthy, smiling and strong as he embraced Frankie on the podium and rode Carte Diamond powerfully to the line, there have been times during the autumn when the effects of his assorted out-of-saddle pressures looked to have been getting to him. Two months ago the battle was neck and neck but the final score of 192 to 176 now hardly merits the adjective `close’.

On the eve of the Breeders’ Cup a week ago, I shared a cab back from Lone Star Park with the two contenders. If his problems were haunting Fallon you would never have guessed it. The two riders seemed as contented and competitive a pair of rivals as a championship could have and the only regret is that the conversation did not include Dettori’s ride Wilko as much as Fallon’s Ouija Board as winners on the morrow.

Since then Dettori (and his wife) have flown to Australia only for him to receive a full month’s suspension for causing interference in the Melbourne Cup which would have hardly merited a week over here. In reality, the discrepancy in tariffs between different racing jurisdiction needs looking at but a month off could not possibly come at a better time for the Dettori family. “I shall be under house arrest,” laughed Frankie, “Catherine says I start the school run on Monday.”

It has been a vintage riding season but the unique strength of racing in these islands was demonstrated by the highlights of the already well-developed jumping season with Ireland’s star chaser Beef Or Salmon getting back to winning ways by outpacing Kicking King in the James Nicholson Wine Merchant Champion Chase at Downroyal, and Perouse running his stablemate Rigmarole and seven other rivals absolutely ragged in the Totesport Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.

Jump racing beckons but there is a still a glow about the very special trail that was laid across the Flat in 2004. It belonged to our favourite Italian, and those who have taken notice should regard themselves as lucky to have seen Dettori at his peak.

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