19 October 2008

 Lawrence Dallaglio sympathises with the horses. It’s not that he thinks his fellow Anglo-Italian, Frankie Dettori, cruel, but he appreciates the workload the animals have to take. At the Godolphin stables at Newmarket, Dettori shows him a set of ice wraps to cool horses’ legs after training. Dallaglio puckers his lips in wincing appreciation. “I could have done with a whole jacket in my time,” he says.

“Rugby players are not very like jockeys,” he concedes in a marginal statement of the obvious in view of the 11 inches and 9 stone  difference in the Dallaglio-Dettori physiques, “but what we do in preparation is much nearer to the horses.

“I have a fascination in how you get one ready and through a big race. Like us, you have to prepare for the game and then rehydrate and recuperate. When racing people say, ‘let’s see how he comes out of his race’, it’s a bit like us saying, ‘let’s see when he can walk again before we think where to play him’.”

As Dallaglio talks, you wonder at the fitness which took him through 19 seasons with Wasps and 85 England caps and which in supposed retirement has just seen him pedal 1,000 charity kilometres and climb 20,000 metres in an eight-day epic from ocean to sea across the Pyrenees.

But you also appreciate why, at 36, he will be a slightly chewed-looking ex-rugby player at the autumn internationals while Dettori, 37, once again goes into the globe-trotting climax of the Flat-racing season, which begins with the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in California next Saturday.

It is a sharp and sunny October morning at Newmarket. Frankie and ‘Lolly’ are making a film for Emirates, who sponsor both Godolphin and the Dubai Sevens, for which Dallaglio is a worldwide ambassador. In an exchange about injuries Dettori trotted off an impressive list of collarbones and wrists and ribs and concussions without delving into the shattered ankle and trauma of a fateful plane crash in 2000.

But there is a glow of well-being about him which is much more than the aura of being the world’s most famous jockey. For, as a rider, he is now into the golden years when the mind can make appointments that, unlike a great player’s fading body, the horses are able to reach. “It gets easier,” the incomparable Lester Piggott once muttered, “it becomes sort of slow motion.”

Dallaglio looks on with unfeigned envy but, as the most positive man ever to beat his breast on a rugby pitch, he is soon enthusing about some of the favourite themes which he will be bringing to Richmond as he gathers his coaching badges.

“Confidence and focus are the key in this game, as in mine,” he says, as an elegantly mounted trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, marshals a string of two-year-olds for their journey to the gallops. “The build-up to a game starts a long way out. You have to get your confidence physically and prepare yourself mentally, and while there is nothing wrong with a bit of self doubt, you have to deal with that privately. On the day, body language is everything.”

The jeans may be a touch crumpled and the balding head a bit battered, but between those surprisingly un-cauliflowered ears all the old spirit pulses out of Dallaglio just as it did  in the glory days for Wasps and England.

The beat has been picked up by Dettori from the start of the morning. ” I am beginning to feel the crackle already,” he had immediately told Dallaglio of next weekend’s Breeders’ Cup excitements. “We have had a slow start at Godolphin but are flying now with 12 winners in the last fortnight, and we will have a good chance with Folk Opera at Santa Anita. The Breeders’ Cup is my Ryder Cup. I love it, just love it.”

Dettori has been sharing in his stable’s late-season surge and if, at just 64 winners, his numerical total is at its lowest since the dreadful plane-crash summer, his prize money haul of £2,177,349 is second only to champion (with a 172-winner score) Ryan Moore.

In sharp anorak, sky blue cap and designer jeans, Dettori cuts a dapper figure beside his huge ursine friend and while Dallaglio joins us for breakfast in the High Street, the little Italian takes a helicopter ride to Lingfield Park to test Breeders’ Cup contender Sixties Icon over the Polytrack circuit in preparation for racing on the new artificial surface in California.

Three hours later, Dettori is back at Newmarket, clamped low and compulsive to the saddle of a two-year-old called Run For The Hills as he wins the first race. “This week I have been training as hard as I can,” he says afterwards, “seven kilometres on the treadmill in my ski suit every morning to make sure I am at my minimum 8st 9lb before I fly out on Tuesday. Then I can recuperate Wednesday, try out the track on Thursday and get my mind ready to help the horses when the races come.”

In an uncanny echo of Dallaglio he continues: “Body language is very important. Horses can’t speak but they pick up feeling. They pick up fear, positiveness and negativeness. “They have a sixth sense and you want them to think ‘this guy is up for it but he is under control’. Positive energy can be transmitted down the line,” Dettori continues, his eyes aflame almost like Dallaglio berating his team-mates in the changing room.

“Adrenalin comes natural to me on a big day but you need to handle it. When I was young I used to get too excited but with experience I have learned to channel it.”

Next week, Europe’s most successful Breeders’ Cup jockey will have seven rides climaxed by Queen Elizabeth II winner Raven’s Pass in the Classic. Lawrence Dallaglio will be banking on Dettori for a touchdown.

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