Jockeys don’t age like other athletes and for two golden hours at Ascot on Thursday it seemed as if Frankie Dettori had not aged at all. His four winners that afternoon climaxing in the Gold Cup itself, will be forever seared in Royal Ascot history. But the game always moves on and yesterday’s main honour went to a lean young man 17 years his junior and a fine bay horse called Blue Point who added the Group One Diamond Jubilee to the equally prestigious Kings Stand which the pair had won only on Tuesday.
To blow away the top sprinters from here and overseas twice in the same week is a feat only achieved in the last twenty years by the bullock shaped and rocket-fired Choisir up from Australia in 2003. Blue Point had only travelled from Charlie Appleby’s yard at Newmarket which had provided Doyle with an earlier winner in the same sky-blue Godolphin silks when the unbeaten two-year-old Pinatubo outgunned the Aidan O’Brien favourite in the Chesham Stakes. But Blue Point had spent his winter winning in Dubai and is now finally adding consistency to the brilliance he has always shown.
At five he is the sort of magnificent equine athlete whose legs and heart keep riders going when in other sports their own limbs are betraying them. At 31 James Doyle is now at a peak that would have seemed wholly unbelievable when things were going so badly after huge early success, that he planned to retrain as a plumber. Refocused and now not only riding for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation but on board Blue Point because of his friend William Buick being out with injury, James was quick to praise the beast beneath him,
“Blue Point is a horse you only dream about having,” he said. “He has really learnt what his job is about and has got better and better with each race. I have never met a horse as tough as this, he is unbelievable. What he has done is nigh on impossible and only two horses have done it. Today marks him as a real champion.”
Of course, there were other great performances which for the winners will last them a lifetime. Most notably Roger Varian and Andrea Atzeni pleased favourite backers when Cape Byron obliged in the Wokingham, two races after the pair had done the same thing in the Hardwicke Stakes when that splendid little grey Defoe held off the gallant finishing effort of the unconsidered Czech horse Nagana Gold in the Hardwicke Stakes. Defoe has always been talented but has only fulfilled his full potential when his own masculinity has had the unkindest cut of all. Perhaps there is still some truth in the old racing adage that “most horses, a lot of trainers and all jockeys would be much improved by gelding.”
Yet as we walked away from this most royal of racetracks the mind went back to those two extraordinary hours when the rest of the world was FORGOTTEN and Dettori caught fire. It may be 26 years since his ‘Magnificent Seven’ on this same famous field of green, but after the first winner was followed by the second and then a third, a buzz of expectation built even greater than back in 1993.
For this was no ordinary fourth race, this was the Ascot Gold Cup itself and in last year’s winner Stradivarius Frankie had a little chestnut hero with a habit of doing things the hard way. Running to the last turn with rivals trying to box him in, hard way it could be. But when Dettori is hot, he seems to have a forcefield about him that clamps into the very being of the horse beneath. Stradivarius was never going to let him down.
Afterwards Frankie and the whole stadium were alight. There have been many truly great jockeys in the long history of Royal Ascot and I have been lucky enough to have seen Piggott when he seemed to rule the place like a demon king. But never in all that time has a rider connected with the fans that cheer him as Frankie Dettori does today.
After the race he and Stradivarius cantered back to join the sweating, weary throng of the beaten horses collecting to walk back under the stands to share their disappointment. But he joined them only for a moment as he had an appointment with his audience. He shortened up his reins and trotted Stradivarius out in front of the main grandstand and lifted his arms in salute as the roars of applause crashed down like rollers on the beach. A little figure but a superstar.
When the walk back had finished with yet another flying dismount and our 93-year-old Queen had very clearly been amused by Britain’s favourite Italian, another question rose like an impossibly inflating bubble in the Ascot air. Frankie had won four, could he now make it five? When he and Turgenev were still firmly in front with three quarters of the race run it seemed as if the whole stand might lift off.
Afterwards he came back towards us with a huge grin on his face. “Now that would have been too much,” he said. Maybe Frankie, but enough on Gold Cup Thursday was more than enough could ever wish to be.