Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 21 November 2017

New retainer offers Dettori chance to return to the top

Jockey Frankie Dettori
Jockey Frankie Dettori

Chris McGrath

Two beaten favourites at lowly Wolverhampton yesterday made it 18 days without a winner for Frankie Dettori, but his week at least started much better.

Before the Italian made his way to the modest all-weather circuit, there was confirmation that he has signed a retainer for Sheikh Joaan Al Thani – one of the Qatari investors suddenly taking on the superpowers of the Turf.

This represents a clarion statement of intent that Dettori is determined to force his way back into the big-time.

Dettori is entitled to consider himself still in his prime, although his humiliating six-month drugs suspension introduced an uncertainty to his return as a freelance, after an 18-year association with Godolphin.

The controversial jockey has mustered only five winners from his first month back. Having always thrived on momentum, however, Dettori can be expected to obtain renewed impetus from this new foothold in the elite races.

For Sheikh Joaan, meanwhile, their partnership contains the delicious potential to emphasise the challenge he and his compatriots represent to Dettori's former employers in Dubai.

The Maktoums are unaccustomed to rivals with pockets as deep as their own, but the different branches of the Al Thani dynasty have quickly emerged as a match for their Gulf neighbours in the bloodstock market – whether in the sales ring, or in private deals.

Sheikh Joaan's new empire is expanding on both sides of the Channel. But those horses stabled with Richard Hannon – notably the top-class Toronado, heading for a rematch with Dawn Approach at Goodwood – will still be ridden by Richard Hughes.

However, Dettori will definitely be getting the leg-up aboard the Marco Botti-trained Planteur, for whom the big target at the end of the season is likely to be the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"He has signed to ride for Sheikh Joaan, it is exciting and it will be great to have Frankie as part of the team," said the Newmarket-based trainer.

Dettori and his new patron concluded the deal at Chantilly. "I'm thrilled to have taken a job for an outstanding new owner," the jockey enthused.

"He seems ambitious. He's got plenty of horses, and plans to expand, so it's a good opportunity for me to get back in the big league. Sheikh Joaan plans to be a big player and, I hope I can help him."

Dettori played down his struggles during what has proved a very brief stint as a freelance.

"It was hard to come back in the middle of the season," he said.

"The good horses have been taken. Nevertheless you've got to start building a new business and slowly we are getting into top gear."

Yesterday, Dettori's two mounts at Wolverhampton were losers – the second of them, the well-fancied Bantam, for Ed Dunlop. Dettori was extending his losing sequence to 48. The former champion jockey will now be looking to return to racing's centre stage and this appointment at least offers him a major chance. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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