Frankie Dettori still going strong at 49 years old

“You never know if you’re going to get another chance,” Frankie Dettori told the Guardian’s Donald McRae five years ago. He was 44 and riding the crest of a wave after rising from the ashes of a turbulent time in his life. A positive test for cocaine had left his career in a downward spiral, before which he had cut his ties with the Godolphin stable, for whom he had ridden for 20 years, but he had overcome those obstacles to record a memorable second triumph in the Derby at Epsom.

In February 2020, Dettori is still going strong, and the chances are still coming thick and fast for this legend of horse racing. A win at the recent Winter Derby at Lingfield gave Dettori that old familiar taste of victory, as he rode Dubai Warrior to victory. Dettori wasn’t even due to ride on the day, but following the suspension of the horse’s usual jockey, the 49-year-old was called into action.

“Unfortunately Rab (Havlin, his usual jockey) was suspended and so I had to come back,” Dettori said. “I left my family skiing and came back a day early, but I have been keeping myself very fit.”

That fitness was made evident as Dettori executed his trademark flying dismount to the delight of the gathered crowd at Lingfield, many of whom were undoubtedly left marvelling at the longevity of the Italian-born jockey. It’s incredible to think that Dettori has been competing at a high level since the late 1980s, and he is proving that he is still well able to compete and make himself a favourite when it comes to horse racing betting odds.

It can be difficult to place jockeys in the pantheon of great sportspeople. Their profession is one that requires a different kind of physical aptitude to many sports, but being a jockey still demands immense fitness and strength, and that makes Dettori’s career all the more impressive. There are other sports where stars have enjoyed similar enduring success – examples like Roger Federer in tennis and Ronnie O’Sullivan in snooker spring to mind – but the length of Dettori’s career outstrips even those two.

He doesn’t compete with the same prolificacy as he used to, and that is understandable given his age, but it’s the standard of his performances that stand out. They say quality beats quantity after all. This latest win in the Winter Derby was just another feather in Dettori’s already significantly plumaged cap. His list of achievements is a long one, with victories in scores of races, and he is one of the most successful flat jockeys in Britain with over 3,000 wins to his name. It’s one thing maintaining a career for so long, but it’s another to enjoy such consistent success.

What becomes evident when you analyse Dettori’s career and his longevity is that his love of horse racing has triumphed throughout the difficult times he has endured. He was handed a sixth-month ban for testing positive for a banned substance, and it would’ve been easy to allow that to affect him adversely. But Dettori has made the most of his chances since then, and deserves to be regarded as one of the sport’s true greats.


Pete White Pete White

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