Bookmakers in England were about the only ones who were unhappy that Frankie Dettori had one of the greatest days of his long, professional riding life.
Race after race at Royal Ascot on Thursday, the bookies were handing back the money that poured in on the 48-year-old Dettori – and at least matching it. Most of it was spent on Stradivarius (3-5 in the U.S., 1-1 in the U.K.), a repeat winner in the $634,719 Group 1 Gold Cup, the most heavily wagered race in England every year.
It was Dettori’s fourth win in as many races, meaning four of his trademark leaps from horseback into the winner’s enclosure. As he kept adding to his victories, the odds kept shortening on his successive mounts as bookmakers tried in vain to limit their exposure.
“The roar from the crowd was incredible,” Dettori said. “This horse has captured people’s imaginations in the way that he runs and the way that he wins.”
The Gold Cup was vintage Dettori, who waited and waited and waited. Then when the slightest hole opened near the top of the stretch of the 2½-mile feature, he pounced. Stradivarius picked up speed on the soft, south England turf, pulling away to a one-length victory over Dee Ex Bee (7-2, 7-2) and Master Of Reality (99-1, 66-1).
“I wasn’t worried about the trouble in the home straight as I just had to wait for the split,” Dettori said. “It got tight, but when I got the split, it was all over. I know that he has a great kick.”
Oh, that’s right. The horse still matters, right? It was the seventh consecutive win for Stradivarius, an accomplishment that is extraordinarily rare for a stayer racing at the top level. Trained by John Gosden, the 5-year-old horse sired by 2009 European champion Sea The Stars has not lost since a third-place finish on soft Ascot ground in the 2017 British Champion Long Distance. During his current winning streak Stradivarius avenged that loss on similar going last fall.
“This is not Stradivarius’s favored ground,” Gosden said. “He is a much better horse on top of the ground, but he has just shown that he can still quicken on this kind of ground. Full marks to a remarkable horse – and a mercurial and remarkable jockey.”
By winning the first four races Thursday, Dettori brought back memories of his “Magnificent Seven” on Sept. 28, 1996, when he went 7-for-7 on the day of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. His bid to go 6-for-6 on Thursday ended with finishes of second and 12th in the last two races. But those results did not throw shade on what Dettori had already done.
“He is a phenomenon,” Gosden said. “And when he rides here he goes to another level.”
Only six years ago it looked like Dettori’s career was over. He had just served a six-month suspension for what was widely reported to be cocaine abuse. That came shortly after Dettori was fired by Godolphin, the Dubai racing giant for which he had first call of its horses before the wins stopped coming as regularly as they once had.
Just when he started to get a foothold in his comeback, Dettori broke his ankle in a race at Nottingham, England. That came only days before he was supposed to take part in the 2013 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The filly he was due to ride – Trêve – went on to win the race. And she did it again without him the following year.
Without a riding contract for a single stable, Dettori soldiered on as an independent jockey. And he started gathering big wins again. After being shut out at the 2013 royal meeting, he came back to win twice in 2014, three times in 2015 and four in 2016. After a hiccup two years ago, Dettori won four times last year, including that first victorious ride on Stradivarius.
“He’s been in the gym working out, and then he comes and rides out for me, and he’s so relaxed,” Gosden said. “The horses are here to do a job, but he does it so beautifully with them, and that makes a difference.”
Now Dettori has six wins this week, making him a serious chance to get his sixth Royal Ascot riding title – and his first in 15 years.
Royal Ascot notes and opinions
The only American horse entered to race Wednesday at Royal Ascot was scratched because of the soft ground. Maven, a colt sired by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was removed from the $126,943 Group 2 Norfolk Stakes sprint for 2-year-olds. His trainer Wesley Ward walked the course before making his decision. Preferring firm ground, Maven will be aimed now for the Prix du Bois at Deauville, France, next month. A’Ali (5-1, 5-1) became the first maiden in 29 years to finish first in the Norfolk, winning by a neck at a time of 1:01.90 over the five furlongs for Dettori and trainer Simon Crisford. A’Ali is now qualified to race in November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Riding a maiden winner, Dettori found an extra gear twice in the deep stretch to bring Star Catcher (9-2, 4-1) a 1½-length victory in the $253,887 Group 2 Ribblesdale, the 1½-mile race for 3-year-old fillies often called the Ascot Oaks. Sired by Sea The Stars and trained by Gosden, Star Catcher had been as long as 11-1 at English books overnight. But she shortened after Dettori had gone 2-for-2 to start Thursday.
With Dettori riding him for the first time, Sangarius (7-1, 13-2) was a 2¼-length winner in the $114,249 Group 3 Hampton Court, a 1¼-mile race for 3-year-olds. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, the Kingman colt won for the first time since he started his career with a pair of wins last year.
Ron Flatter’s racing column appears daily during Royal Ascot. It is normally posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s edition features trainer Doug O’Neill talking about the ups and downs of a trying but successful season at Santa Anita. SiriusXM FC’s Tommy Smyth with a “Y” shares some betting stories, including his simple strategy for wagering on the horses. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google and Stitcher.