Jockey Profiles: Frankie Dettori
A household name and a media favourite, Frankie Dettori is just as comfortable atop a horse as he is making appearances on a Question of Sport.
But, who is Frankie and what exactly is it that makes him such an exceptional figure in the world of racing.
Who Is He?
Born in 1970 in Milan, like many of the greats, Dettori was always destined to be a jockey. His father Gianfranco was a seasoned jockey in his native Italy and won the Italian Riding Championship a staggering 13 times across a storied career. His mother’s history with horses was even more surprising. Working as a circus gymnast, she rode two horses simultaneously around the parade ring – her lithe build giving Frank his slender frame and providing the inspiration for the jockey’s famous flying dismounts from the back of his horses.
After getting his own palomino horse at the age of eight, Frankie began to excel in the ring but struggled at school. Reading proved difficult for him and soon caused him behind the rest of his classmates, confessing in interviews later that his children could read better than him. Seeing where his true talents lay, his father supported his interest in working in animals. Before long, the young Dettori was a competent horseman and started to distinguish himself from the pack with his skill for getting the most out of any ride – a trick that he carried well into adulthood. It wasn’t long before the laurels started falling in his lap, taking his first win at the age of sixteen in Turin and riding 100 winners in a season while he was still a teenager.
This blossoming success saw the family set their sights higher than local races and, before long, Gianfranco Dettori used his contacts to arrange for his son to be shipped off to England to work as a stable boy and apprentice jockey. Within months, Frankie had landed in the yards without a word of English to his name and with everything to prove.
Which he soon did.
Climbing the ranks quickly, the Italian started to put a number of wins under his belt as soon as he could race. His early career saw him take the Champion Jockey trophy multiple times and his first G1 in 1990. His pedigree and hard acquired personal accolades saw him win a retainer to ride for racing giant Godolphin in 1994. A contract which ran for a staggering eighteen years, and was widely known to be worth seven figures which, at the time, made him one of the highest paid jockeys in the world.
However, 2012 saw his easy ride come to a juddering halt.
As he grew older, some saw Frankie’s form start to drop. His positioning as Godolphin’s golden boy became increasingly tenuous as fellow rider Michael Barzalona was increasingly seen to be given preferential treatment and favourable positioning in many races. A near fatal plane crash in 2000 which saw his pilot die caused Frankie psychological trauma – causing him to have panic attacks in closed spaces and suffer from claustrophobia. With a separation from his company on the cards, Dettori turned to drug use to escape. And failing a random drugs test, he was banned for six months, quickly jumping from Godolphin before he was pushed.
Marooned from his career and separated from a reliable source of income, it looked like Dettori was an aging racer whose career was fated to fizzle out. So, jockey took the time to himself in the most ‘Frankie’ way possible.
He went on Big Brother.
The centre of scandal, the world watched as Frankie came and went from the show. Upon leaving, his ban was lifted and Dettori was picked up by Sheikh Joaan Al Thani’s Al Shaqab Racing, which began a new chapter of his career, securing the title of ‘World’s Best Jockey’ in 2015 with a clustering of a hundred points across five wins. And he brought in his new partner – Galileo Gold.
Bought by the Sheikh as a chance investment, Gold was sired from the undistinguished Galicrux, who finished last in his final two places but was cousin to a well-storied bloodline. Partnered with Frankie, both of the pair had something to prove, and they did. Pitched as a 14/1 outsider, Galileo stormed to victory to take to the 2000 guineas at Newmarket by an unprecedented length and a half. Blowing away expectations, Frankie was back with a bang and the hits kept coming, taking St. James’ Place in June 2016 and continuing a string of victories – going on to earn nearly a million over flat across its career. The pair worked well together, with the horse playing up to Dettori’s ringside showboating and biting at him every opportunity he got. Although their partnership came to an end after Galileo suffered a soft-tissue injury and was put out to stud in 2017. Dettori got together with his old friend for one final photograph…and got bitten in the arm one last time for his temerity.
However, despite his explosive comeback, things have not gone easily.
A recent freak fall in Yarmouth’s parade ring in 2017 saw Dettori instantly back on the saddle, but complications soon arose. Injured more than he realised, the jockey was forced to duck Ascot and undergo physiotherapy research, missing the pole-star of the racing calendar. And while he bounced back from recovery, Dettori is well aware that he’s closer to the finish line than the start of his career.
At 45, Frankie himself thinks he has another five years in his career and while every missed race is a missed chance to distinguish himself, the Italian has returned a more mature rider who knows he has to pick his battles…but still loves the attention when he gets it. A talented jockey and a phenomenal performer, Dettori has a great career outside of the ring waiting for him. But when he gets around to it has yet to be decided.
What Makes Him One Of The Best?
High energy: Most of the population know Dettori as motor-mouthed showman’s showman, feeding off the energy of the crowd and underperforming on races where he is out of the spotlight. This means social media streams like Twitter have been perfect for him to give information on his recovery, training methods, and lavish praise on other riders.
Investments in the future: Along with planning his career, a large portion of his time is now spent lavished on the true star of his Twitter feed – his son Rocco. The young rider is proving himself even from a young age, winning the Shetland Pony race at the Suffolk show and riding since he was five years old. Perhaps providing us with a solid tip for the future?
Above all, humble: Despite his swagger, Dettori is always willing to put those that support him front and centre in his accomplishments. He is continuously recognising the role that ‘the boss’ Sheikh Joaan played in resurrecting his career when he needed it most and recently described himself as a ‘passenger’ on Golden Horn when he took his win…although he was sure to make sure that he mentioned it was his second time winning.