Frankie Dettori’s career, spanning three decades, 17 domestic Classic wins, including the Epsom Derby twice, 14 Breeders’ Cups and six Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes (and counting) is never going to be defined by one horse. But he is in no doubt about the best of them; Enable.
At 48, Dettori is approaching the twilight of his career – although there are no signs of it in his riding. British racing is dreading the day the sport’s most outgoing personality hangs up his boots and even the jockey, who is giving Peter Pan a lesson in the preservation of youth, knows his clock is ticking.
Jockeys, generally, are not a sentimental bunch; they get on, get off, move on to the next one and leave all the loving to the stable lads. The catalyst for a jockey’s admiration is nearly always governed by ability.
But few Flat jockeys can claim a love affair with a horse like that enjoyed by Dettori and the mare. When she goes, pointed out her trainer John Gosden tongue in cheek recently, at least the yard outside her stable will no longer be littered by Dettori’s discarded Polo wrappings.
On Sunday, thousands of British racegoers will follow Enable to Paris as she attempts to become the first horse to win three Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes, a feat which would put her at the top – or very close to it – of the great race mares of all time.
“If we are not going to make a fuss of a horse of a lifetime like that, we are never going to,” said the jockey who warmed up for the race by winning his 17th Group One of the season on Anapurna in Saturday’s Prix de Royallieu.
“If I tell you I wasn’t nervous, I’d be lying. Ask Steve Redgrave when he was going for a fifth Olympic gold how he felt – we are trying to scale a mountain which has never been scaled before, we are trying to do the impossible.
“And it is no gimme. All the best horses in Europe take us on, everything has to go right, she’s got to produce her best and I’ve got to make sure I don’t mess up. It is soft ground but she has won on it before. Apart from that, it’s easy.”
So, which of today’s rivals present a threat? Japan, the Irish colt trained by Aidan O’Brien rather than the three runners from that racing-mad nation, looks the biggest danger. During the winter he was Ballydoyle’s “Derby horse”, but a setback in the spring meant he was barely ready for the last trial, the Dante.
After finishing fourth at York, he took a huge step forward to finish a near third in a bunch finish at Epsom. His victory in the Royal Ascot’s Derby consolation, the King Edward VII Stakes, was one of the most impressive of the meeting and he has franked that impression since by winning the Grand Prix de Paris over Sunday’s course and distance.
Last time out he beat the consistent Crystal Ocean, the top-rated horse in Europe at the time, by a head over a mile and a quarter at York and that puts him close to Enable who beat the same horse a neck in the King George.
Dettori’s mare has to give Japan and the French Derby winner Sottsass 3lb because of their age difference. Sottsass, the French Derby winner, is an unknown quantity with speed to burn but he is by a miler and I am not convinced about him getting a mile and a half run over an end-to-end gallop. Stall one does not help his cause.
Godolphin’s Ghaiyyath is smart on his day. However, he lacks a bit of consistency and there was a touch of the too-good-to-be-true about his 14-length win of a German Group One lately, although Marienbard won the same race for Godolphin before going on to win the 2002 Arc. He is unlikely to get loose on the lead today.
Magical has been beaten four times by Enable but, Crystal Ocean apart, she is the horse who has given her most to think about and if it comes down to the small margins provided by fortune, she might not be far away.
But there is no doubting what victory would mean to Dettori.
“I cried when she won at York and I’ll probably cry again,” he said. “This day is not about me, it’s about the sport and more for Enable and for her finale because if she does it she will be immortal.”