Irish Champion Weekend at Leopardstown had a familiar feel this year.
Aidan O’Brien took yet another Irish Champion Stakes, his 12th in total as a trainer, and the brilliant Auguste Rodin got back to winning ways. There was, however, no “flying dismount” for the Irish racing fans to cheer one last time. Frankie Dettori, the legendary Italian jockey, did not get the fairytale ending to his Irish racing career. His intention was to equal the record of the great Mick Kinane by taking seven Irish Champion Stakes. As it stands, Dettori will have to settle for just six.
Dettori is, of course, retiring at the end of the season. He will hang up his silks for the last time at the Breeders’ Cup Festival in the United States in early November. It means it’s only a matter of weeks until the affable Italian ends a career that has been delighting racing fans over the past 35 years or so. Barring an incredible u-turn – with rumours of such a move gathering pace, although most remain sceptical – Irish Champion Weekend was the last time fans would see Dettori in Ireland.
A stellar career
But what a career it’s been. In addition to those six Irish Champion Stakes, Dettori has won five Irish Oaks, two 2,000 Guineas, the Irish Derby, two Irish St Legers, and two Tatersalls Gold Cups. It is true that Dettori’s appearances in Ireland have been more fleeting in recent years. His last major success came in the Oaks in 2019 on Star Catcher. But plenty of Irish fans will have fond memories of the likeable Italian from down the years.
What was his greatest win in Ireland? Everyone will have their favourite, including the great Enable winning the Irish Champion Stakes in 2017, as well as Balanchine in the Irish Derby all the way back in 1994 (the race that truly announced his arrival in Ireland). But for our part, the run on Wicklow Brave in 2016 Irish St Leger was the most memorable, not least because it saw Dettori partner with legendary jumps trainer Willie Mullins.
The Magnificent Seven
Of course, when the final words of Dettori’s career obituary are written, most racing fans’ eyes will be drawn to the exhilarating day in 1996 when Dettori completed the “Magnificent Seven” at British Champions Day at Ascot. The feat has remained one of the biggest talking points in sports history. There are several documentaries covering it, and even a celebratory slot game, Playtech’s Frankie Dettori’s Magic Seven. The seven wins from seven runs came in at odds of over 25,000/1. A miraculous day, but one that also highlighted Dettori’s genius. It was a mixture of commanding rides and hard-fought narrow wins, and a mixture favourites and longshots. Dettori was the difference maker.
We wouldn’t have enough column space to cover all ofDettori’s big wins and accolades. But it’s enough to say that he is won almost everything there is to win in elite flat racing, then returned to win it all again. A few prizes have eluded him, including the Melbourne Cup, but it has been one of the great careers in racing history, with perhaps only a small handful of jockeys able to stake a claim on being superior, if at all. He’s made his mark on Irish racing too. And for the last time at Leopardstown in September, the fans watched the great Italian jockey on Irish ground.