Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Frankie and Johnny double act keeping racing fans entertained with quality over quantity'

Frankie Dettori riding Enable. Photo: Mark Cranham
Frankie Dettori riding Enable. Photo: Mark Cranham
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

The two greatest horses of recent years in this part of the world have just given two of their most remarkable performances.

On Saturday last at Ascot, Enable became the first horse ever to regain the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Dahlia (1973/74) and Swain (1997/98) won it twice in a row but Enable missed the chance to do so last year through injury.

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What made the victory really noteworthy was that it came after a battle which evoked memories of the legendary contest in the 1975 race between Grundy and Bustino.

With two furlongs left, Crystal Ocean burst into the lead with Enable, brought round the outside by Frankie Dettori, coming to challenge. They raced neck and neck for the next furlong. Enable edged into a narrow lead only for Crystal Ocean to rally and inch ahead with half a furlong to go.

For a few strides it seemed that the momentum had shifted to the second favourite, but Enable fought back in the last hundred yards to prevail by a neck. Horse racing does not get much more exciting.

Enable has now won 12 of her 13 races. Nine of those victories have been in Group One races and they have included an English Oaks, an Irish Oaks, two Prixs de l'Arc de Triomphe and a Breeders Cup Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. She has been odds-on favourite in seven of her last nine races, evens in one and 5/4 in the other.

It's fair to point out that as a filly she was receiving three pounds from Crystal Ocean at Ascot, yet she seemed to have more in hand at the finish. You also have to take into account the phenomenal fighting spirit of a horse whose last four wins have been by less than a length.

It's a big change from her dominant three-year-old days when she won the Irish and English Oaks and King George by an average of five lengths. On October 6 she'll bid to become the first horse ever to win three Arcs in a row. Should she do so, it will be an historic occasion and one of flat racing's great achievements. Crystal Ocean should again be her main rival

Stayers are much less glamorous than speedsters, but Stradivarius has bucked that trend and on Wednesday made history by becoming the first horse to win three Goodwood Cups in a row. The great five-year-old's victory was also by a neck but was a lot more straightforward, with Dettori easing off to salute the crowd in the final strides.

Stradivarius secured a £1million bonus by winning the Yorkshire, Ascot, Goodwood and Lonsdale Cups last year and is three quarters of the way through repeating the feat in 2019. He's on a run of eight wins in a row and like Enable is ridden by Dettori and trained by John Gosden.

Gosden has challenged Aidan O'Brien's position at the head of Flat racing in recent years. And while O'Brien has the edge in terms of quantity, the Englishman leads when it comes to quality. He's trained four of the last five Cartier Horse of the Year winners.

Though he won a Derby as long ago as 1997, the last three years have been by far the most successful in the 68-year-old's career. There's an interesting contrast between his character and that of his rival. O'Brien is focused on the job at hand to an almost monomaniacal degree, telling interviewers that he has no interests outside horse racing.

Gosden, who's the spit of a man organising a mission to rescue stranded airmen in an old British war movie, is different. "He knows his music history. He knows everything about Bob Dylan, followed by everything about the Stones," says his friend, Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood. He's also a devotee of art and opera who says: "Some people get on that narrow gauge railway and have nothing except racing to talk about. But that would drive me mad."

He's also conscious of racing's responsibility to its spectators, saying before the King George: "We don't want horses winning by five and the jockey waving to the crowd, we want real competition and hopefully that's what we get on Saturday."

His wish was granted as the crowd witnessed one of the great races of recent times. Dettori did get to wave to the crowd at Goodwood and his remarkable renaissance should see him short-listed for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

They're quite a team, this Frankie and Johnny.

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