24th August 2023
Masterclass is often too strong a word. Not this time, supposedly for one of the very final times, from Frankie Dettori as he won this Juddmonte International on Mostadhaf bossing it from the front.
It was a race billed as the next step in the Irish colt Paddington’s march to glory and his rider Ryan Moore was widely expected to make the running as he had done when winning the Sussex Stakes, the latest in his string of top-flight successes this season. Mostadhaf had never made the running in his three season, 15 race career. But he did now. Dettori jumped him out of the stalls with intent and set the clock ticking.
It helped that in the previous race he had ticked that clock too fast on the St Leger favourite Gregory and paid the penalty, ending a well beaten third to Paddington’s stable mate Continous on whom Ryan Moore had kept well off the opening flurry. That was in the Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes over a mile and a half, the Juddmonte was over a quarter mile shorter, and the fractions tell the tale.
In the Voltigeur, Gregory was taken through the second furlong in an ultra-rapid 11.54 seconds and followed it up with another sub 12 second 11.71. Mostadhaf’s comparatives were 12.35 and 11.93 but these were still quick enough to keep a full three length advantage over Paddington whilst storing enough for the expected final assault.
Of course everything looks better in hindsight, but as we are set to lose him we must treasure these images of Dettori in full flow. Just the front toes in the stirrup iron, the body perched feather-light behind the mane, the horse free striding beneath. Balance, equine sympathy and then the compulsion when Paddington and finally Mostadhaf’s stablemate Nashwa attacked.
Enough energy was still in the tank. Fully three furlongs out Moore was looking anxious as the gap would not close. Paddington had only once been this far and the effort of getting to the leader bit into him. His always high head carriage twisted in the effort. Dettori had flourished the whip a couple of times in his right hand but now switched it to his left to prevent Mostadhaf lugging across to the last gasp effort from Nashwa. She got to a length at the line with Paddington a neck away. It was not enough.
Afterwards Dettori was keen to stress that it was a team effort and paid tribute both to Mostadhaf’s regular jockey, the suspended Jim Crowley, and to trainer John Gosden. “I spoke to John at length and studied his replays and I thought there’s only one way to beat Paddington and that’s by making it a proper gallop, so I did. Full credit to the horse, he was superb today.”
He also spoke of his pride at another achievement, that of passing Lester Piggott’s five Juddmonte total. “To be the first man to win six Internationals, I’m very proud, and to beat the great Lester Piggott. It’s my last year and to finish on a high like this is amazing.”
Which bring us to a final tease. Dettori insists this is his final year in Britain and no swan song has ever been better sung. But he is already committed to riding in California over the winter. If that goes as well as it did last year, will he be able to resist the thought of carrying on?
He may have put his Newmarket house on the market but riding in California makes a lot more sense for a man of his temperament and background than media activities from a flat in Mayfair which were the plans when last mooted.
But whatever happens it is still important to say that Frankie Dettori is something else. I saw Gordon Richards ride, I was close to many great moments of Piggott genius, but no one in this modern, globally shared world, has given us as many euphoric public moments as the little man from Milan.
It’s impossible to overstate how much we will miss him and I bet it’s vice versa. Something tells me it’s not over yet. I hope it’s not.