It might be the favourite week of the year for racing enthusiast, the Queen. But the true king of Royal Ascot is flamboyant jockey Frankie Dettori.
Still the darling of the crowds at the age of 48, Dettori has ridden no fewer than 60 winners at the royal meeting, making him the most successful current pilot.
Since his first winner in 1990, he has endured only six blank years, and has bagged no fewer than 26 of the week’s 30 different races.
Few jockeys ride Ascot better, and as the countdown hots up to next week’s action, the Italian is purring over a coveted book of rides, full of strong fancies.
He said: “I’m really looking forward to the meeting. Trainer John Gosden has gathered a pretty decent team, and I’ve got some nice outside rides too.
“I broke my shoulder two years ago yesterday and missed the royal meeting, so I am always careful in the build-up.
“But looking at my rides, they are all great and I’m looking forward to the week. You go there with good horses and tremendous expectations, but many races have 20 to 30 runners and everybody is there to win.
“It is not easy. Every winner has be fought hard for and you need a bit of luck. Last year, I thought Cracksman was a penalty-kick, but he got beaten.”
Dettori’s rides are headed by the Gosden-trained STRADIVARIUS, who bids to retain his crown in the Group One Gold Cup over 2m4f next Thursday.
The 5yo son of Sea The Stars is unbeaten in his last six starts and captured the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ £1-million bonus last season after victories in five top events, including the Gold Cup.
The superstar stayer made a fine return to action when accounting for the Aidan O’Brien-trained Southern France in the Yorkshire Cup at York a month ago.
“Stradivarius is doing well”, said Dettori. “He is very fresh and has become the people’s favourite horse.
“He has to try and defend his Gold Cup title, but the great thing about him is that he wears his heart on his sleeve and he will not go down without a fight.
“People appreciate that and the public love him, like we all do at Clarehaven Stables. There is young talent coming through and new horses come along every year. They will want to have a shot at the title, but we’ll see what happens. Competition is good and if they come into the ring, they know they will have a fight with us.
“Stradivarius’s main priority is to try and win a second Gold Cup. The Queen only comes down to present the trophy on two occasions during the week, the Gold Cup and the Diamond Jubilee. It is an honour to receive the trophy from her. The Gold Cup is a fantastic race with a rich history and being ladies’ day adds to the occasion, so it is a special day.”
Frankie partners the exciting TOO DARN HOT, also trained by Gosden, in the Group One St James’s Palace Stakes over 1m on the opening day of Royal Ascot next Tuesday. The son of Frankel was crowned Europe’s champion 2yo last term, having won all four of his starts, which culminated with success in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.
The Lord Lloyd-Webber-owned colt endured an injury-troubled start to this campaign before finishing a creditable length second in the Dante Stakes over an extended 10f at York. Dropped back to 1m just nine days later for the Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh, Too Darn Hot chased home the Charlie Hills-trained PHOENIX OF SPAIN, and the pair are set to renew their rivalry in the St James’s Palace.
Dettori said: “Too Darn Hot has had a very unfortunate time this season. We had to rush to get him on to a racecourse. We tried the Dante, where he obviously didn’t stay, combined with perhaps a lack of fitness. Then we tried the Irish 2000 Guineas, where he finished a good second.
“I just feel I haven’t got him where I wanted him to be. Hopefully at Ascot, you will see the old Too Darn Hot. I feel he has more to give and you haven’t seen the real him yet this season.
“He looks well and came out of the Irish Guineas well. He is an amazing horse to ride in the mornings. Stablemate KING OF COMEDY also runs in the St James’s Palace and he is an improving horse, entitled to be in the race.”
Connections of American sprinter IMPRIMIS have secured the services of Dettori for the £500,000 Group One King’s Stand Stakes over 5f also next Tuesday. Discussing his chances, the jockey continued: “Imprimis is probably the best American turf sprinter. The King’s Stand looks a very good race this year with BLUE POINT and BATTAASH. But American sprinters have done well in the past, his form is very good and Joe Orseno, the trainer, seems very happy with him. It is another tough race, but hopefully he runs well.”
Dettori has also picked up the ride on the Sir Michael Stoute-trained CRYSTAL OCEAN in the Group One Prince Of Wales’s Stakes next (Wednesday in what looks to be one of the races of the week, featuring also last season’s Irish Oaks heroine, SEA OF CLASS, Aidan O’Brien’s MAGICAL and the Japanese raider, DEIRDRE.
The Italian said: “It will be the best race of the meeting if everyone turns up. I am very pleased to pick up the ride on Crystal Ocean who is such a versatile horse. He loves Ascot, and is two from two this year.”
Champion trainer Gosden, who has 47 Royal Ascot winners to his name, is set to send a typically strong squad to the Berkshire track next week.
He said: “We are happy going into the meeting, and Frankie has been training them which makes life easier for me!
“The rain coming has been a bit of a surprise which has caused us to change some of our plans and preparation, but the good news is that Ascot week isn’t this week as it would have been a little wet to say the least.
“Stradivarius wouldn’t want it too Soft as he is at his best on top of the ground. He worked very nicely on the Limekilns on Monday morning before they shut it and I have been very happy with his preparation.
“Too Darn Hot has probably been the worst managed horse this year, by me and the manager. He missed the Guineas at Newmarket which was a tragedy because that would have been a perfect race. He then had to wait for two weeks before going for the Dante when he was, quite frankly, only about 80 per cent fit. Frankie was trying to settle him further back and ignored the pacemakers and consequently got there to be second.
“Then, as we seemed to be missing the Classics, we went over to Ireland nine days later. Due to the rules, he had to have a flu vaccination. He ran really well and finished second, but we all ask horses to do impossible things and I think it would have been much better if we had targeted the Irish Guineas from the outset. From the horse’s point of view, that has not been very clever.
“Having said that, Too Darn Hot is going into the St James’s Palace Stakes in good form and I hope that he can put in a quality performance as he certainly has not had the opportunity to do that so far this season with his interrupted preparation through the spring.
“I think I am the happiest I have been with him so far this season. Last year went so smoothly it was almost ridiculous, a maiden followed by a Group Three, a Group Two and a Group One. This year has been quite the opposite. The good news is that we are only halfway through the season, so there is still a lot to look forward to.
“As for my other runners, MEHDAAYIH will not run in the Ribblesdale Stakes. We are waiting with her as she got knocked about lots in the Oaks and it is too soon. But we have got SHAMBOLIC and a couple of other fillies in there who could run.
“TWIST ‘N’ SHAKE will go in the Coronation Stakes. She is quite tiny, and I wouldn’t want her to carry a lot of weight in the Sandringham Handicap.
“It was always the plan to go for the King Edward VII Stakes with PRIVATE SECRETARY, while HUMANITARIAN had a warm-up in the Derby, where he learned a lot about racing, and will probably go there as well.
“We are only running one 2yo this year as most of our horses are quite late-developing. LIGHT ANGEL won at Newbury and is a tiny Dark Angel horse, but should run a nice race in the Coventry Stakes.
“I am looking forward to running CORELLI in the Duke Of Edinburgh but in the handicaps, you have to get the run of the race and anyone who thinks they have a banker is over-optimistic.”
Last year, saw Sir Michael Stoute become the most successful trainer ever at Royal Ascot when Poet’s Word gave him his 76th victory at the meeting in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. Stoute enjoyed a further three winners, with his record there now standing at 79 winners.
Stoute said: “Last year was thrilling and went really well. The previous year, we thought we might get one as we went there with about five favourites, but it was an anti-climax, so it was a great thrill when Poet’s Word won.
“Crystal Ocean will go for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. It is a very tough race, but he goes there in great form.
“MUSTASHRY runs in the Queen Anne Stakes, the opening race of the meeting. I was thrilled with his win in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury and his preparations have gone fine. He is impervious to ground conditions which is very handy, and we are hopeful.
“It will be a big step up for JUBILOSO in the Coronation Stakes as she has only won a maiden and a novice race. But she has been very impressive and is progressive. She is a classy filly.
“DREAM OF DREAMS is a solid Group-race performer. He didn’t pick one up last year when he got beat in a few photos. I have been very pleased with his two runs this year and he goes for the 6f Diamond Jubilee Stakes. I also think RAWDAA, whom Frankie rides, goes there with a big chance in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes.”