3 June 2007

Frankie Dettori, in tune with the times, in tune with the horse and now, at last, in tune with the Derby.

In the end it was gloriously, ruthlessly simple, but the vast, nation-wide explosion of joy as Authorized powered Dettori past the winning post only happened because of the tightening knot of worry beginning to bite into the psyche of horse and rider alike. Dettori had been through panic enough when he damaged a knee in a fall last week and when he had to rush his son to hospital a couple of days ago. But when Authorized got into the paddock, it was clear the tension was getting to him, too.

With temperatures in the high 70s, Authorized was becoming a very hot favourite indeed. Every now and then he was dancing on the spot and chucking his white splashed forehead up and down in annoyance. He might not have known he was risking punters a fortune, but he knew something was up. Dettori’s impassive, far away focus in the parade showed he was feeling it, too.

But in the race you would not have known it. With the Epsom outsider Kid Mambo setting a good gallop from the start, Dettori, from his wide draw, ensured himself of as good a position as possible for the first right-hand dogleg on the upward climb and then settled in towards the back of the field as Kid Mambo and the Ballydoyle outsider Anton Chekhov kept up the tempo at the lead. Dettori was towards the back and on the outside, but this was a no-risk strategy. He should be on the best horse. He had the others covered.

“I counted 10 horses in front of me,” he said afterwards, “but I thought as long as they did not slow up and bunch us, I could have a clear run at them. I expected a dogfight, but it was so smooth it was like an oil painting. It was beautiful, so smooth and great.”

Close up, there was one of those gorgeous feelings of historic inevitability. A little green-silked figure pumping behind the mane of the big bay colt who, with his tongue flopping out of the side of the mouth, was making his big stride force him clear of his rivals as the whole 100,000 crowd roared in salute. Three swift times Dettori’s whip smacked back to keep up the pressure, but as he came to the line, those familiar Italian teeth were flashing in delight and there was the first of an endless series of war-whoops.

The victory by five lengths, two-and-a-half lengths and a head from Eagle Mountain, Aqaleem and Lucarno was so decisive that everyone now could abandon themselves in delight. What luck it has been for British racing that Dettori’s instinct is to share his delight as wide as possible. He was scheduled to parade sedately in front of the massed photographers and then return to the unsaddling circle. But he could see and hear the clamouring fans in the grandstand and on the infield on either side of the now empty racetrack up ahead. He signalled the photographers apart and rode up the course for his lap of glory.

At last he had a partner to give him the one racing honour that has eluded him. That he had was thanks to the talents of 44-year-old Peter Chapple-Hyam, a portly figure sweating under the black top hat and now cautioning in his Tommy Cooper voice “it’s all about the horse”. Chapple-Hyam won the 1992 Derby with Dr Devious, and his three seasons back from an unhappy spell in Hong Kong have confirmed that he has the crucial trainer’s gift of being able to both spot talent and to deliver it.

Yesterday he also had the services of the one of the greatest sets of gifts ever rolled into a jockey’s frame. Sometimes it is easy to miss the skills beneath the showmanship. But if anyone ever questioned Dettori’s ability to rise to the highest challenge on the greatest stage they needed to watch this race.

And if anyone ever doubted that Frankie’s knee injury would eliminate the trademark “flying dismount,” they should have been beside him as he turned to press through the throng to the unsaddling enclosure. “No,” he said to someone advising caution. “Clear the area. I am going to do a flyer and if the knee cracks, hey, I’ve still won the Derby.”

Long after the racing was over he finally came out of the changing room, a tired, dapper, limping little figure in a smart suit and a pink shirt carrying a glass of champagne in one hand and a trophy bag in the other. His mobile phone already showed 65 text messages.

“I am really drained,” he said, “but this is the most satisfying moment of my career. When my five children grow up I want to be able to tell them that I won the big honours in my sport. I don’t want to retire, but this has been the day that was wanted.”

For Dettori, of course, but after Henry Cecil’s hugely welcomed comeback win in the Oaks with Light Shift on Friday, this was the day that racing itself needed more than any other.

Her Majesty was there too. After yesterday, is it really too soon for “Arise Sir Frankie”?

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