OAKS DAY 2023

BROUGH SCOTT

THE TIMES, SPORT

The hole he will leave may well prove unfillable. Frankie Dettori dazzled Epsom once again, winning both the Coronation Cup for the sixth time and the Oaks for a seventh, that his 23rd English classic in a retirement season so hot that demands will grow for an encore.

That dilemma is dealt with in another piece but yesterday’s credits must be shared with two brilliant fillies and with the training team that has so often sustained him. Over the years John Gosden, whose son Thady now shares the licence, has been the senior figure from whom Dettori has got support in moments of self-inflicted crisis. In 1990 when an impetuous move to Hong Kong was scuppered by a drugs find, and then again in 2012 when the ending of the jockey’s long association with Godolphin was exacerbated by a year’s ban from a positive test for cocaine. Yesterday that support was richly repaid.

Fittingly, the double began with Emily Upjohn in the Coronation Cup whose tardy start when hot favourite in last year’s Oaks led to an unease in the Gosden-Dettori relationship which briefly developed into a full time split after Royal Ascot. The Lloyd Webber owned filly started steadily again yesterday but that was by design and the way Dettori sling-shotted past her five rivals in the straight was nothing less than masterful.

Westover had taken over from the pacesetting Hurricane Lane and Point Lonsdale when, in two astonishing sub 11 second furlongs, Emily Upjohn rocketed past to have nearly two lengths in hand at the line with Point Lonsdale left 7 full lengths adrift in third. The sky, or rather the Arc De Triomphe, is the limit for Emily Upjohn who will then become a much prized asset at the Lloyd Webber’s stud under the lee of Watership Down.

Soul Sister will be an equally enviable brood mare when she returns to her birthplace  at Lady Bamford’s Daylesford Stud. Comparisons were also shared in performance as Dettori again came from the very back of the field to sail up the outside and outgun the odds-on Savethelastdance who only just held off Caernarfon, Jack Channon’s much underestimated 40-1 outsider, for second.

Yet in Soul Sister’s case the jockey had to do a lot more than just be patient. The filly broke fast and was at first two keen on the outside of the nine runners. Seeing that the original plan of easily tucking in close to the leaders was not an option, Dettori gradually took his partner back until she was positioned at the back of the pack, drawn tight like an arrow to be fired from a bow. As she and her rider flew towards the target it was hard to think that this may be the closing year of seeing the familiar image of that little figure clamped in behind the mane.

“When he’s on the top of his game,” said John Gosden, whose other entry Running Lion was withdrawn after getting upset in the stalls, “there’s never been anyone better. As an international jockey to go anywhere in the world, he can ride in any country, every style, every track – he’s absolutely untouched in that department.” 

The man himself was content to savour the moment. “It means a lot to win the Oaks seven times” Dettori said, the smile creased into that leathery face. “Lady Bamford has been a huge supporter of mine. This is my second Group 1, two great fillies and I just want to soak it all in.”

That extraordinary toe tip balance on the stirrup iron, the rhythmic inspiration he brings to the runner beneath, and of course the ebullience of the flying dismounts, have seared him into the public consciousness way beyond anyone else in the racing game. My how we will miss him.

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