Epsom Derby: How Frankie Dettori came back from exile

Frankie Dettori celebrates Epsom Derby win
The familiar Frankie Dettori smile was back on his face as he rode Golden Horn to victory in the Derby

Two years ago, I interviewed Frankie Dettori over the phone from his Newmarket home on the afternoon of Derby Day. He was cooking pasta for his kids when he wanted to be cooking up a storm in the famous flat race.

"The last 18 months have been the worst of my life in terms of work," he told me in June 2013.

"Now it's just a case of restarting again and getting the love back."

He had returned at Epsom a day earlier from a six-month ban after testing positive for cocaine, and finished down the field on three rides.

Dettori had split the previous year from Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin racing team after 18 highly successful years, and his future was uncertain.

Fast forward two years, and racing's best-known showman was back.

A flying dismount, aged 44, to huge cheers from a crowd of 125,000 at Epsom racecourse after winning the Derby on Golden Horn.

Frankie Dettori celebrates Epsom Derby win
Dettori treated the Epsom crowds to a familiar winner's enclosure celebration

The Dettori story

"I've had a colourful life and I'm not finished yet," said Dettori after his second Derby victory, on the unbeaten colt Golden Horn, who triumphed by three-and-a-half lengths from his John Gosden-trained stablemate Jack Hobbs.

The Italian-born rider is not exaggerating about the colourful bit. Consider the timeline:

From 'Magnificent Seven' to the diary room and back
1996: Makes headlines around the world when riding record-breaking 'Magnificent Seven' at Ascot - all the winners at one meeting at combined odds of more than 25,000-1.
2000: Wins world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, on Dubai Millennium for Sheikh Mohammed; weeks later survives light aircraft crash in which the pilot dies.
2007: Finally ends his Derby jinx at the 15th attempt when scoring on Authorized. Wins the French Derby with Lawman the following day.
2012: Leaves Godolphin after being sidelined; tests positive for cocaine in France and given a six-month drugs ban.
2013: Enters the Celebrity Big Brother House and befriends winner Rylan, who calls him Frank. Returns from suspension and struggles for winners before landing plum job as retained rider for Qatar's Sheikh Joaan al Thani.

Highs and lows

Frankie Dettori seven winners at Ascot in 1996
Dettori gave bookmakers nightmares after his seven wins from seven at Ascot in 1996

The dapper Dettori, christened Lanfranco, is not permanently the flamboyant figure that largely comes across in the media.

He has enjoyed a celebrity lifestyle, once presented Top of the Pops, is friends with the likes of actor and former footballer Vinnie Jones, and has a number of restaurants called Frankie's with chef Marco Pierre-White.

But in a recent Guardian interview, he said: "My wife Catherine says I've got bipolar [disorder] because sometimes I'm happy, sometimes I'm not, and I've got the concentration span of the flea. She's got a point - I'm often up and down."

The drugs ban hit him hard. His own fault, of course. But he didn't like being in the wilderness, and retained the thirst for winning.

Frankie Dettori and wife Catherine
Dettori admits he let his wife Catherine and their children down

Story of the winner

Golden Horn led a one-two for Newmarket trainer John Gosden and won the 236th running of the Derby in the third-fastest time ever recorded.

Dettori said Gosden's words of advice beforehand were "be cool" and the three-time champion jockey was just that on the 13-8 favourite as he waited to pounce and then surged clear of Jack Hobbs in the final furlong, with Storm The Stars third.

Frankie Dettori rides Golden Horn to victory in the Derby
Golden Horn powered Dettori to victory in the third-fastest time in Derby history

Victory vindicated the decision of owner-breeder Anthony Oppenheimer to take a £75,000 gamble on his horse seeing out the mile-and-a-half Derby trip.

That was the supplementary fee he had to pay to get his colt into the race as a late addition, and it paid off, with a first prize of more than £800,000.

Racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght's verdict:
"Of course Dettori will grab most of the Derby headlines, but this was a highly significant result for all concerned."Golden Horn retains his unbeaten record brilliantly, so confirming the form of the Dante Stakes in which Jack Hobbs was also runner-up."It's all spectacularly vindicated Anthony Oppenheimer's decision to pay for the late entry, and his colt's stamina lasted every inch."And to saddle two Derby runners, as Gosden did, and to finish first and second is nothing short of magnificent."

Roles reversed

Winning his fourth start from four runs, Golden Horn confirmed the form of his defeat of runner-up Jack Hobbs in the Dante Stakes at York last month.

Buick had ridden Golden Horn in the trial, with Dettori on the runner-up, but Buick was switched to Jack Hobbs after Godolphin bought a share in the colt.

Jack Hobbs trails Golden Horn in the Epsom Derby
William Buick could not keep pace on Jack Hobbs with a determined Dettori

He was magnanimous in defeat, saying: "Golden Horn was the only horse I could see coming.

"I knew when I pressed the button, Frankie would be on my tail.

Fastest Derby times
2010: Workforce - 2 minutes 31.33 seconds
1995: Lammtarra - 2:32.31
2015: Golden Horn 2:32.32

"It was a great race, a great race to be involved in, a great race to watch and I am very happy for John Gosden.

"It is an unbelievable feat and I am far from disappointed to finish second."

Dettori said he felt "numb" in the closing strides of the race as he realised he would win.

"I was in a state of shock. It was just unbelievable. It still hasn't really sunk in. I'm thrilled to bits," he enthused.

"He (Golden Horn) hit a flat spot but when he started to roll and I went upsides Jack Hobbs, I was going so fast I thought there's no way someone is going past me now."

Gosden - 'the father figure'

John Gosden became the first man to have a Derby one-two since Aidan O'Brien with High Chaparral and Hawk Wing in 2002.

The 64-year-old had to wait 18 years for his second Derby win, having first scored with Benny The Dip in 1997.

John Gosden and Frankie Dettori celebrate the win fro Golden Horn at Epsom
John Gosden and Frankie Dettori embraced at the finish line of the Derby

"John and myself go back 20 years," said Dettori. "I was meant to ride Benny The Dip, then I won it with Authorized and finally we've done it together.

"John has been very constructive in my career, as a friend and like a father figure, but now I think we are good mates."

Gosden praised the ride, saying: "These things are made to look simple and it could have been a complete mess if he'd gone too soon but he did it all right."

And finally

Back in the dark days of his drugs ban, Dettori said: "I've let my wife and children down."

So the father-of-five will have felt a great sense of pride going home to his family in Newmarket, having made headlines for all the right reasons.

Frankie Dettori on Big Brother
Dettori was thrown in to the Big Brother house in 2013 with the likes of Gillian Taylforth and Rylan Clark

Dettori did not hang around for long after the Derby, saying he had to meet the Queen and then go to Lingfield's evening race meeting.

He made it to the Surrey track - and rode another winner, 2-7 favourite Hathal in the 19:30, three hours after his Epsom Classic success.

I asked him how victory now in the Derby compared to 2007, and how his children would react.

"I probably enjoyed this one a bit more, I was a bit younger the first time, and I will savour it all. I can't wait to go home and see them," he said.

No need to worry about the Derby Day cooking this time. Dettori had proved he was the pasta master in the comeback stakes.

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