Racing’s 'Tiger' Dettori to steal show on return to Kingdom
Having had some thrilling battles against him during his riding career, Johnny Murtagh is relieved to have Frankie Dettori – “the Tiger Woods of racing” – on his side tonight as the flamboyant jockey makes his first visit to the Killarney races.
They say there’s no show like a Joe show but in the racing world, no performer comes close to Dettori, with excitement building ahead of the Italian rider’s arrival in Kerry Airport today before he showcases his skills at the July Festival.
One only needs to mention the name ‘Frankie’ and the colourful 48-year-old immediately springs to mind and the Murtagh-trained Finding Nero – in the Rentokil Initial Handicap (8.30) – will be one of his four mounts at the Kerry track.
Murtagh and Dettori are long-time friends out of the saddle – Dettori regularly stays with him when travelling over for Guineas/Derby weekend – and the Kildare trainer is buzzing at the prospect of having his old rival in his corner for once.
“He’s done a lot for racing out of the saddle, he plays the game well, he knows how to get people engaged. The name alone, it’s a flashy kind of name and then in the saddle there’s no one better,” Murtagh said.
“He’s a bit like Tiger Woods on the range; when you go to see him he’s got great balance, great style and great flair. He’s very strong, and he’s one of the great riders in the world, never mind over in England.
“There’ll be a lot of people down there on holidays and if they are down around the area, they’ll go to the races because Frankie is there. It’d be great if he got a chance to do the flying dismount.”
There was a similar buzz when Dettori visited Tralee 21 years ago and he didn’t disappoint his legion of supporters by riding a winner.
While Frankie is rarely without a smile, Murtagh describes a gritty competitor who will do whatever he can to prevail with the bigger occasion bringing the best out of the diminutive pilot.
"People think he's a great showman but I've stayed with him for years, he does his homework every morning. He might seem like he's always smiling but as soon as those stalls open, he knows what's happening," Murtagh said.
"The big days never get to him and the bigger the crowd, the more energy he gets. He's one of those fellas, he likes the arm over the shoulder telling him how good he is, you won't get the best out of Frankie any other way.
"He likes that little bit of special treatment and he likes to be happy. He always comes up and gives you a big kiss after the race but one day I beat him in Ascot in the St James's Palace (on Black Minnaloushe in 2001), I beat him on the line and said, 'What do you think of that?'
"I can't repeat what he said to me but he didn't give me any kisses that day. There was no arm over the shoulder, he wasn't happy."
Dettori has been in sensational form and the man who completed the 'magnificent seven' when going through the Ascot card at odds of 25,051/1 in 1996 sent the bookies cowering for cover again at Royal Ascot last month when landing a second-day four-timer.
Murtagh insists that "people are just backing Frankie blind" such is the "x-factor" which he possesses on and off the track and he hopes his arrival can turn around his fortunes after a string of frustrating second places.