Frankie Dettori gets right notes out of Stradivarius in thriller

THE TIMES, 21 August 2021

It’s the winning post that counts. Frankie Dettori knows where it is and after six battling seasons you have to think so, too, does Stradivarius. Three strides from the line in the Lonsdale Cup at York yesterday, Spanish Mission and William Buick still held them. But one final lunge and they were there. It was just a horse race and yet much more.

For simple things can be best. Two bold and beautiful thoroughbreds stretching every breath and sinew up the Knavesmire’s famous turf in a duel to lift the heart. Atop them a 50-year-old maestro and a 33-year-old star, both of whom had jockeys as fathers and jockeyship as their calling. All and everything was to make the athlete beneath reach for that line as 300 years of selective breeding has intended.

It helps when it is on such a wonderful stage in a county that loves its racing and in which two of the three Arab stallions were based. It helps if there can be a challenger as tough and talented as Spanish Mission whose six victories have included a winning turn at Belmont and who started his year winning the Yorkshire Cup on this course in May after earlier running second in Riyadh and fifth in Dubai. It especially helps as if you have a four-legged legend like Stradivarius.

This was his 29th race in six seasons and his 18th victory in an unequalled staying career which now include four Goodwood Cups, three Gold Cups, two Yorkshire Cups and a Doncaster Cups as well as now three successes in yesterday’s Lonsdale Cup. He is a full-blooded stallion who loves to holler his horniness of a training morning but whose chestnut head and flaxen mane set unflinching on race day. It is no exaggeration to say that we have grown to love him. As he and Frankie came in, I was not the only one wiping an eye from the sheer joy of it.

It had taken time to get our breath back at both the intensity of the duel and of the flashing skill set that finished it. Stradivarius and Spanish Mission locked up together, the riders’ arms already pumping, as the leader The Grand Visir wilted with a full quarter mile to run. Spanish Mission looked just the stronger and inched half a neck ahead. Dettori’s whip was in his left hand and, quicker than I can write this, he grabbed the reins, switched it to his right, waved it three times, switched it backed again to draw the last desperate effort that would put Stradivarius’s nose in front.

“He’s getting older and wiser, so I don’t think you’ll see him winning by very far these days,” said Dettori afterwards. “But he got the job done. I was really choking up when he got an amazing reception. I love him so much.”

The other highlight of the day was over in a flash, or to be exact in the 56.72 seconds that it took the filly Winter Power to cover the five furlongs of the Nunthorpe and crack the much-vaunted American colt Golden Pal whose astonishing opening sprint once clocked 45 mph. He couldn’t last and faded into 7th leaving the 40-1 outside Emaraaty Ana to come home a respectable second in front of Dragon Symbol and the French favourite, Suesa.

It was a first Nunthorpe and a third success at the meeting for Yorkshire trainer Tim Easterby and could remind everyone that ‘God’s Own Country’ belongs to racing too. But beyond all else this was the day when Dettori asked and Stradivarius answered to make that winning post yet again.

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