Photo by Ernie Belmont/Past The Wire
Frankie Dettori, He showed us how good he is!
“¡Frankie Dettori, ci ha mostrato quanto e bravo!”
by Ashley Tamulonis
When Frankie Dettori announced 2023 would be his final year in the saddle, and he would start it off at Santa Anita, and also finish at The Great Race Place in The Breeders’ Cup, Past The Wire announced a series on his storied career tracking Frankie across the globe. In typical Frankie fashion, he started the Frankie’s Fanfare year with the explosion we have come to expect from one of the most brilliantly talented and personable jockeys of all time.
As the son of the legendary Gianfranco Dettori, perhaps it should have been abundantly clear from day one that Lanfranco, better known as Frankie to the world of racing, was destined to be a champion jockey. But as is the case with nearly all of us, the road of fate isn’t always straight or smooth.
When Frankie was 8, his father took him to pick out his first pony. Out in the field were two bays and a palomino; Frankie chose the palomino, named Silvia. Throughout his pony club years, which were dominated by fancy riding clothes and girls, he had been mostly indifferent towards the horses, but Silvia was kept at a field just down the road from the Dettoris home. She was all his, and besides, there were no girls.
Within about a year, Frankie entered his first pony derby with Silvia at the San Siro track in Milan. The other ponies and jockeys were giants compared to Frankie and Silvia, and the pair quickly fell behind from the start. Towards the finish Silvia shied from the crowds, sending Frankie into the water jump. They finished dead last, but it was that day that the dream took hold of Frankie. “I want to be a jockey,” he told his dad.
As soon as he was old enough, which is 14 in Italy with parental permission, Frankie left school to pursue being a jockey. He began in Milan at Alduino and Giuseppe Botti’s yard. As the stable jockey’s son, Frankie fell into a gray zone. In his fancy getup and still wet behind the ears, the other lads looked at him as a “prize chump,” one not big enough or strong enough to ride powerful thoroughbreds. But because he’s Gianfranco’s son, they also don’t want to treat him badly or give him the dirty or dangerous tasks typically given to newcomers. But those are exactly the things Frankie wanted, needed. To learn from the ground, up.
When the Bottis’ yard closes in late autumn, Gianfranco sent Frankie to work for Tonino Verdicchio at his winter training quarters in Pisa. Tonino worked him hard but also quietly installed confidence in the young Frankie. Under Tonino’s tutelage, he learned more in 3-4 months than he had in his lifetime prior to that.
He returned to Bottis’ yard in spring thinking he could actually do this, become a jockey. The confidence instilled in him thanks to Tonino shines through, and once again Gianfranco sits his son down and redirects his career. Gianfranco tells him that he is sending him to England to work at Luca Cumani’s, a trainer there. When Frankie protests, Gianfranco says to him, “Because you’re going to be champion jockey, and going there’s vital for that. Nowhere like England to learn what you still need to learn.”
It’s in working for Luca that Lanfranco picks up the nickname “Frankie” as the other boys around him can’t get their mouths ‘round his given name. Determined to see his dreams come to fruition, Frankie is up early every day, beating even the head lad to the stables. He’s several years younger than most of the others, who either ignore him entirely or bully him because he cannot speak English. George Dunwoody, who looks after the 1984 St. Leger winner Commanche Run, is the only one who talks to the young, new hand. Dunwoody trained and rode horses for years in Northern Ireland and does his best to explain things to Frankie through the language barrier.
As soon as he’s old enough, 15 years and 6 months, Gianfranco brought his son home to race in Italy. There are eight runners, and four are ridden by Dettoris: Frankie’s uncle, dad, cousin, and him. He finishes third, and, upon being called in to see the stewards, Frankie realizes the laughter he had heard was because his dad had started whipping his horse at one point to make it go faster.
Not long after Frankie is back in England and riding at Goodwood. He was aboard Luca’s filly Lizzy Hare, a 12-1 shot. The duo squeezed through a gap on the far rail to win the race over champion jockeys Steve Cauthen, Willie Carson, and Pat Eddery. He’s on his way, but things progress slowly, as they often do when you’re learning your trade in a foreign country.
Frankie traveled to California for the first time to work for Richard Cross when the season in England was over. He quickly fell in love with Angel Cordero’s flying dismount and began emulating him in private. After Santa Anita, it’s back across the pond where Frankie meets Barney Curley at the Tattersalls sales. That moment sparks a lasting partnership.
Despite an unfortunate incident involving one of the Aga Khan’s horses, in which the hot-headed kid hit the horse over the head in frustration, Frankie is riding so well that Luca makes him his stable jockey at 18. He ended 1989 with 75 wins and the Champion Apprentice title. He set his sights on scoring 100 winners the next season, something no teenager had done since Lester Priggot 35 years prior. He managed it and took two fewer months to achieve than Lester.
It’s September 29, 1990, before Frankie finally broke through at the top level, winning the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot aboard Markofdistinction. He went on to win 141 races that year.
Rather than go back to America at the end of the 1991 season, Frankie decided to give Hong Kong a try. It was there that he perfected his riding style, a mix of the typical European style of the iron being beneath the arch and Cordero’s style of keeping just the toes in the irons.
After working for Luca for seven years, Frankie leaves the trainer’s yard on a sour note, lured by the prospect of big money and a fast lifestyle in Hong Kong. Rather than retain the rash young rider, Luca moved on, leaving Frankie high and dry in the months leading up to the beginning of Hong Kong’s season. The party lifestyle was sneaking up on him, finally catching up to him when Frankie was caught with cocaine in his possession while out on the town. While he got off with a caution, riding in Hong Kong was off the table and his career was skating on thin ice.
Barney Curley sat Frankie down one evening after Frankie rode for him at Goodwood. Recognizing the young jockey’s talent, Curley gave Frankie the talkin’ to that he needed. After laying into him about his partying and lack of focus on the track, Curley struck a deal with him. If Frankie buckled down and got serious, he would do everything he could to help him.
With new determination, Frankie threw himself back into his work. Under Curley’s advisement, Frankie approached Luca and apologized for his past behavior. Luca accepted the olive branch offered but warned Frankie that while he would ride for him again, it would not be for at least a year.
Meanwhile, good to his word, Curley put in a word to John Gosden, who trained a lot of the horses that belonged to Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai. Gosden wanted a jockey to solely ride the Sheikh’s horses, and Gosden and Curley decided that Frankie was the man for the job. The Sheikh and his outfit Godolphin are in the game to win, and riding for the Sheikh meant that Frankie could finally land the Classics winners that he had thus far vainly sought.
His sights set on being Champion Jockey, Frankie began the next season on January 1, 1994. Rather than wait for the Sheikh’s string to arrive in the spring, he took his tack to the three all-weather tracks: Lingfield, Southwell, and Wolverhampton. By the time the turf season began at Doncaster that year, Frankie had already amassed 51 winners.
Frankie finally nabbed that elusive first Classic win with a filly named Balanchine. He first rode her in Dubai in the 1000 Guineas with no prep; the duo lost the photo when the filly’s closing rush comes up just short. For the Oaks, Frankie inadvertently left his riding gloves in the weighing room. As it turned out, it was a fortuitous mistake. Balanchine jumped out and pulled from the start, but Frankie knew the course and between his knowledge and the filly’s talent, the pair crossed the line first. The rest of the year included riding the Queen’s horses at Ascot and continually keeping his nose to the grindstone. The hard work paid off as Frankie totaled 233 wins, four more than his dad’s best season, and garnered Champion Jockey honors.
Frankie won his first Breeders’ Cup race, the Mile, in 1995 aboard Barathea, a win that would cement the restoration of the working relationship between Luca and Dettori. It was at Churchill after that very first Breeders’ Cup victory that he unleashed the flying dismount for the first time. He also won his first St. Leger, the first of six, that year aboard Classic Cliché and his first Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the first of six including with Golden Horn in 2015 and Enable in 2017 and 2018, aboard Lammtarra. Once again, Frankie earned Champion Jockey honors with 217 total winners.
1996 was an up-and-down year for Dettori. He sustained a broken elbow when the Godolphin filly Shawanni threw him in the paddock prior to the race. After intense rehab, he made it back to races in time to ride Shantou to victory in the St. Leger, giving John Gosden his first career victory in that Classic. A few days later Frankie completed “The Magnificent Seven” at Royal Ascot. He won the Cumberland Lodge Stakes aboard Wall Street in the first race; the Diadem Stakes with Diffident, whom he hadn’t given much chance; the Queen Elizabeth II with Mark of Esteem and with Sheikh Mohammed’s approval, he introduces the flying dismount to the Ascot crowd; the Tote Festival Handicap with Decorated Hero, a win Frankie had deemed impossible to win; the fifth race with Fatefully, another unlikely winner; the Blue Seal Conditions Stakes with Lochangel, and the Gordon Carter Handicap with Fujiyama Crest. Winning with Lochangel had tied Dettori with Sir Gordon Richards, Alec Russell, and Willie Carson in winning six races in a row in one day. Winning the seventh race with Fujiyama Crest made the record all his. Frankie would also go on to win the Japan Cup with Singspiel in 1996.
From there Frankie’s career continued to take off with a derailment in 2000. He and fellow jockey Ray Cochrane were aboard a Piper Seneca plane that crashed on takeoff at Newmarket on its way to Goodwood. The crash killed pilot Patrick Mackey, but Dettori managed to escape, thanks to Ray pulling him from the wreckage, with just a fractured right ankle and an injured thumb. The year 2000 would also see Frankie win his first Dubai World Cup, the first of four, with Dubai Millennium.
In the years since Dettori has won nearly every major race in every major country there is. He has won every Group 1 race in the UK except the July Cup, including numerous victories in the five Classics: the 1,000 Guineas 4 times with Cape Verdi (1998), Kazzia (2002), Blue Bunting, (2011) and Mother Earth (2021); the 2,000 Guineas 3 times with Mark of Esteem (1996), Island Sands (1999), and Galileo Gold (2016); the Epsom Derby twice with Authorized (2007) and Golden Horn (2015); the Oaks 6 times with Balanchine (1994), Moonshell (1995), Kazzia (2002), Enable (2017), Anapurna (2019), and Snowfall (2021); and the St. Leger 6 times with Classic Cliché (1995), Shantou (1996), Scorpion (2005), Sixties Icon (2006), Conduit (2008), and Logician (2019).
In 2015 Frankie nabbed a landmark 50th winner at Royal Ascot. It took until 2018 to hit the 60-mark, and he did it with Stradivarius, winning his sixth Gold Cup in the process. In 2019 he rode five winners at Royal Ascot, including annexing his third Gold Cup on Stradivarius. In 2020, he then hits the 70-win mark at the storied track.
In France, Frankie has won their biggest five races multiple times. He won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe a record six times with Lammtarra (1995), Sakhee (2001), Marienbard (2002), Golden Horn (2015), and Enable (2017, 2018). He’s won the Prix Jacques Le Marois 7 times, including with Dubai Millennium in 1999. He has also won the Prix du Jockey Club, also known as the French Derby, three times. He won the Prix de Diane twice and the Prix d’Essai des Poulains three times.
The five biggest races in Ireland are the Irish Champion Stakes, the Irish Derby, the Irish Oaks, the Irish 2,000 Guineas, and the Irish 1,000 Guineas. Dettori has won the Irish Champion Stakes six times, including with Golden Horn in 2015; the Irish Derby once; the Irish Oaks five times, including with Enable in 2017; and the Irish 2,000 Guineas twice.
Major wins in Hong Kong include the Hong Kong Cup three times, the Hong Kong Mile once, the Hong Kong Vase twice, and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup once. In nearby Japan, Dettori has won the Japan Cup three times and the Japan Dirt Cup once.
Along with his Dubai World Cup win aboard Dubai Millennium in 2000, Frankie has three other wins in that race, including most recently with Country Grammar. He has won the Dubai Turf three times, the Golden Shaheen once, the Sheema Classic three times, and the Al Quoz Sprint once.
Here in the United States, Frankie’s wins include the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Raven’s Pass in 2008; the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf with Ouija Board in 2006 and Queen’s Trust in 2016; the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile once with Wilko in 2004; the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf three times with Donativum in 2008, Pounced in 2009, and Hootenanny in 2014; the Breeders’ Cup Mile twice with Barathea in 1994 and Expert Eye in 2018; and the Breeders’ Cup Turf five times with Daylami in 1999, Fantastic Light in 2001, Red Rocks in 2006, Dangerous Midge in 2010, and Enable in 2018.
It goes without saying that Frankie owns major wins in his native Italy, but some of the places his career has taken him are surprising. He has major wins in Bahrain, with his two most notable horses there being Shogun and Thorkhill Star. He has traveled to and won in Qatar, Germany, Macau, Trinidad and Tobago, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Mauritius, and Singapore.
With a career as long lasting as Frankie has had, it is safe to say that he’s been aboard hundreds, perhaps thousands, of horses. Most are your bread-and-butter type of runners, but Dettori has seen his fair share of top-tier horses, too. You feel lucky to win with any of them, but there are a few that jockeys will form a lasting bond with. Enable was one of those for Frankie.
Enable was never a morning glory. Frankie described her as a reluctant worker whose demeanor suggested she’d rather be relaxing in her stall than hauling some crazy Italian around the track. But in the afternoons, Enable was a monster. In his first race aboard her, they won the Cheshire Oaks easily. From there, it’s on to the Oaks where Enable dominates favored Rhododendron by five lengths in track record time despite the sodden conditions amongst a torrential downfall. Frankie hit another bump in the road when he sustained a fractured arm in the parade ring in Yarmouth. In typical Frankie fashion, he recovered quickly and was back in Enable’s saddle for the Irish Oaks, which they win by 5 ½-lengths. The duo then takes the King George by 4 ½-lengths. It’s the same story in the Yorkshire Oaks when they win by 5-lengths.
Enable makes her first attempt in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a 3-year-old, and at that point, no 3-year-old filly trained in Britain or Ireland had won the storied race. Again they win easily, and for Frankie, it’s a record fifth Arc, the most for any jockey.
Enable ends up sidelined in 2018 due to a bone spur rubbing on her bursa, resulting in fluid build-up that required surgery. She missed several months, including the King George and the Coronation Cup. Instead, Frankie rides Stradivarius, a horse that John Gosden described as having as much personality as Frankie himself, to a win in the Gold Cup. But Enable is still very much Frankie’s love, and he visits her 3-4 times a week, doing nothing more than spending time with her and feeding her Polo mints.
Enable makes it back to the races in the September Stakes, where she easily dispatched her rivals. Attempting to defend her Arc title was next, something no other horse aside from Treve had done for almost 40 years, and certainly something no horse had ever done off just one race. The race itself appeared to be in the bag until Enable suddenly hit a brick wall. As Frankie pled with her to hang on for just another half-furlong, Enable dug deep and eked out a narrow victory of Sea of Class, displaying courage and sheer refusal to lose. Frankie and Enable then took their show across the pond, defeating Magical in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the first ever Arc and Breeders’ Cup double.
At age five, despite the special bond forged through trial and victory, Enable is still no keener in the mornings for Frankie. She takes longer than ever to get ready, and he and John really have to mix up her training to keep her interested. But when she’s finally ready, she’s ready. Despite being 2-furlongs shorter than she really wanted, Enable with Frankie aboard, once again defeated Magical, becoming just the third mare to ever win the Eclipse Stakes. In the King George Enable once again had to dig deep and just outlasted Crystal Ocean. In the Yorkshire Oaks, Enable again defeats Magical, this time more easily than in past races, however. It was her last race in England.
The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is Enable’s final race. No horse has ever won it three times in a row, and only Treve had even attempted it. Only jockey Pat Eddery had won it three times in a row, with three different horses between 1985 and 1987. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be Enable’s day. The turf was much softer than she preferred, and when Waldgeist came at her, she just didn’t have anything left with which to repel him.
Price Khalid brought Enable back for one more year. 2020, the year better known for the Covid-19 pandemic than anything else, would be the 6-year-old’s final year. When racing in the UK finally resumed, Enable began her year with a second-place effort in the Eclipse. That year’s King George attracts just three: Japan, Sovereign, and Enable. In the driving rain, Enable became the first horse to win three King Georges, and for Frankie, it was his seventh, equaling Lester Piggott. They once again use a facile victory in the September Stakes as a prep for a fourth try at the Arc. The ground is again much too wet for Enable’s liking, and she finishes sixth. In Frankie’s words, she went out not with a bang but with a whimper.
When it came time for her to leave Clarehaven and head off to stud, Enable received the farewell she deserved. She had her picture taken in Prince Abdullah’s colors, and the whole stable staff turned out to say farewell. Everyone cried, Dettori included. Together they raced and loved, understanding each other intrinsically. Their partnership was one of perfect harmony, and though it didn’t get a fairy tale ending on the track, they still accomplished unprecedented feats. And the story doesn’t necessarily end there. Enable will visit the best stallions, starting with Kingman in her first season in the shed, so the possibility of Frankie riding her offspring glimmers in the future.
Frankie, in his first winter at Santa Anita, did what he does best. On opening day, he won the Grade 2 San Antonio aboard Country Grammar, with whom he paired with to win the Dubai World Cup earlier in the year. He won another two races that day, getting off to a hot start. With that win came an invitation to the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, to be run at Gulfstream on January 28. Trips to Saudi Arabia for the Saudi Cup and Dubai for the Dubai World Cup are not out of the question.
The ball has dropped, or hooked wide left if you’re a Georgia Bulldogs fan, and another year has been put to bed. It’s now 2023, and as a Hall of Famer, there isn’t much left for Frankie to accomplish. This will be his last year in the saddle, and knowing Frankie and his gigantic personality, he will make it a memorable one.
There is only one Frankie in the saddle!
 Dettori, F., & Starling, F. (2021) Leap of Faith: The New Biography (pp. 24). HarperCollinsPublishers.
 Dettori, F., & Starling, F. (2021) Leap of Faith: The New Biography (pp. 26). HarperCollinsPublishers.
 Dettori, F., & Starling, F. (2021) Leap of Faith: The New Biography (pp. 27). HarperCollinsPublishers.