Wednesday 24 January 2018

Dettori becoming yesterday's man

Godolphin's talent dearth and rise of younger jockeys putting Italian great out to pasture, says Ian McClean

Royal Ascot 2012 felt somehow more muted this year. Perhaps it's the general economy, perhaps the Euros or simply the vicissitudes of the British summer. Yes, we had the spectacles of Frankel and Black Caviar to lift the spirit by bookending the five-day pageant but when a yawning 10,000 fewer than last year show up for Gold Cup/Ladies day, somewhere there's a reason.

Racing's broader dilemma won't have been exercising the thoughts of Frankie Dettori as he was getting the leg up on Colour Vision in the Gold Cup on Thursday -- his own dilemma was far more personal. And at the fringe of that dilemma was the question of whether he had even picked the right horse. With every raindrop his mount Colour Vision's odds extended, whilst Opinion Poll's (the horse he discarded) contracted.

Dettori, at 41, was experiencing a mid-life crisis. It was characterised by the ritual banter -- so routinely shared with the crowd by the normally fizzy Italian as his mount circles the parade ring -- being strangely absent. Racegoers playfully tossed up the lob in expectation ("Aye, Aye Frankie!") but Frankie simply ignored the smash. Instead Dettori was tense and detached. So un-Frankie. Someone even mistook him for Ryan Moore.

Dettori had much to contend with in his thoughts. For starters, in June alone he had just one winner from 42 rides. Here was a champion sportsman who had been top jockey on six previous occasions at Royal Ascot -- yet was now an eighth choice 25/1 shot to triumph again.

In 25 years at the meeting he had never been so overlooked. Even as far back as 1990 Dettori had ridden a Group One double at the meeting. Now over 40, the supremacy and indulgence enjoyed for a full quarter century was palpably waning. The favourite for this year's Ascot jockey's crown was a 19-year-old, Joseph O'Brien, who wasn't even born when Dettori was making headlines, and moreover, had never even ridden a Royal Ascot winner.

However, Frankie's greatest personal upheaval emanated from within his own camp. Earlier this year his employer contracted not one, but two additional riders (Mickael Barzalona and Silvestre de Souza) to the firm -- one as shiny and glittering in their potential as the next. All would be well I suspect if there was even a soupcon of the talent amongst Godolphin's 300 horses in training as there is on the jockeys' bench. However, from amongst their burgeoning light-blue ranks Godolphin couldn't muster a Derby runner and Frankie suffered the ignominy of being sent to Haydock on Derby Day. He may as well have been sent to Coventry. As a further indication of the operation's plight last week, Godolphin did not have a three-year-old miler good enough to appear amongst the 16 runners for the St James Palace Stakes.

Such a talent drought was always going to lead to a scarcity scramble amongst the jockeys. The core, however, of Dettori's crisis is the changing of the old order. He has begun to be supplanted by a rider half his age. In the curtain-raiser for the meeting no one expected to beat Frankel. Nonetheless, Godolphin fielded one runner -- and Helmet was ridden by Barzalona. Dettori had to make do with an outside ride that ultimately finished last.

On Wednesday it didn't help that Frankie's ride (Farhh) in the Group One Prince of Wales' blew the start and finished an unlucky, running-on third. The race was won by enemy number one Coolmore with So You Think. And it certainly doesn't help that your main rival is flourishing. Godolphin have had five times more runners in the UK this season than Ballydoyle, but until Thursday no Group One winner. Aidan O'Brien meanwhile had won six of the nine UK Group Ones run so far.

So as the Italian exited the paddock for the start in Thursday's Gold Cup cloaked in uncharacteristic silence he could be forgiven for thinking he was fast becoming Yesterday's Man.

The ride on Colour Vision that delivered everything was trumped only by the reaction afterwards that said everything. The professional equivalent of a death-row pardon, Frankie's words afterwards spoke of a "hard week" and how he was "glad this one came up", but Godolphin's Simon Crisford summarised it best when he said "Frankie wasn't going to be beaten -- especially when he saw Barzalona coming upsides".

From Frankie to Frankel, whom not much got upsides as he sauntered to an irresistible 11-length success to make it 11 straight wins on Tuesday. One spread-betting firm on the day led with an advertisement that read "Death, Taxes, Frankel?" and certainly with every run the Henry Cecil-trained champion is getting better and better.

The towering supremacy of Frankel was in stark contrast to the scrambling victory of unbeaten Australian mare Black Caviar in yesterday's featured Diamond Jubilee. Trainer Peter Moody said before the race that he wouldn't mind if she only won by half an inch. However, not for a moment does anyone think the trainer expected that. Especially after jockey Luke Nolen dropped his hands 50 yards from the post.

To be fair to the mare now unbeaten in twice the number of races as Frankel (22), she was palpably not at her best following her 33-hour 10,500 trip from Caulfield. The expression on many faces from Ascot to Melbourne as Black Caviar almost succumbed in the last stride resembled Edvard Munch's The Scream. But ultimately for racing's profile her bold visit to the northern hemisphere had two other words in common with the famous painting -- rare and priceless.

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