03 June 2023

No fairytale farewell to the Derby for Frankie, but no regrets

03 June 2023

Frankie Dettori bade farewell to the Derby without the fairytale ending many had anticipated.

Truth be told, he half expected it. A good to firm summer surface had turned against his mount, the John and Thady Gosden-trained Arrest, who had been so impressive in taking the soft-ground Chester Vase.

Connections knew he would stay the mile and a half, which he did – just in his own time, the underfoot conditions playing to the strength of his rivals.

Epsom has never really been the luckiest of tracks for the 52-year-old Italian. He had won two Derbys – with Authorised (2002) and Golden Horn (2015) – yet this was his 29th ride on the eccentric rollercoaster of a track.

Still he held the mantle of ‘housewives’ favourite’, and Arrest was duly the 4-1 favourite on the back of Dettori’s Coronation Cup/Oaks double the previous afternoon.

Yet connections of the Juddmonte-owned son of Frankel knew the writing was on the wall, writ large, once they had started the descent to Tattenham Corner.

From a promising position and off a pedestrian early pace, Arrest folded, finishing 10th of the 14 runners, with the exceptional winner Auguste Rodin far away in the distance.

Dettori, who quickly gained some compensation when guiding the Ralph Beckett-trained Prosperous Voyage to victory in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes, was remarkably unemotional as he confirmed it was to be his last Derby ride and following his subsequent victory, his final ride at Epsom.

He said: “Yeah, that’s it, me and Epsom are done. The last one and we won!

“Arrest got very warm beforehand. We jumped good, we had a good slot but from the four (furlong pole) I was in trouble. He was climbing and was finding the downhill from Tattenham Corner very difficult. He took me into the straight and his legs were going everywhere. It was a combination of the left-hand track, downhill and the ground drying up. It is what it is.

“I’ve never ridden him before on this ground, but there we are.”

John Gosden, who had supplied both Dettori’s Group One victories on Friday, had tried to warn punters the Frankel colt would need all the luck in the world on this rattling surface.

He was far from disappointed and said: “Not this track, on that ground. The ground was too quick. He had a leg in every county and Frankie knew he was in trouble halfway down the hill.

“We will freshen him up and see where we will want to go. The track on this ground – when you have that good to firm in there, you are in trouble.

“We anticipated it when we were going home last night. Take nothing from the winner. I don’t think anything would have beaten him on any ground and the second (King Of Steel) has run a blinder.

“It was a brilliant achievement (from Aidan O’Brien) to get the winner back after Newmarket, because obviously something went wrong there.

“It is a superb achievement. He had the class to win and he had a hell of a target to get to in King Of Steel. It was some race – two proper horses.”

This was not the result the punters may have wanted, but unlike last summer’s rather tense Royal Ascot, where Dettori was given some thinly-veiled criticism by the trainer for his perceived lack of dedication, now there was nothing but praise.

“It wasn’t the fairytale for Frankie, and the great thing was he couldn’t have done a Lester (Piggott) and got on either of them, because they are both retained rides, the first and second. So, to that extent I think we are all right,” Gosden said.

“He has been brilliant. He has had a great meeting and he knew straightaway this horse was in trouble. He didn’t knock him about. They backed him down to favourite because of the Frankie factor and the bookies clipping it, and that was a bit silly, because he was never a 4-1 favourite.

“But it was a proper race. The horse sweated up beforehand, but that is his nature. We will freshen him up and see where we go. He is in at Royal Ascot. The horse will tell us over the next week or 10 days. He doesn’t need the ground like he had at Chester, but he does like to get his toe in.”

Before rushing off to Box 11, floor 4, to talk to corporate customers, Dettori had the last word.

“I’m relaxed. I’m going to enjoy it and I’m going to eat a bit of grass.”

I've got nothing to prove now, I'm enjoying it. That's why I'm riding so well

With that, he bent down for a second time, chewed a clip of grass in the hat-box winner’s circle and continued to munch while the microphones attempted to catch his every word.

“It’s sweet,” he laughed. “I’m going to soak this in. It’s been a great weekend. Funnily enough, I’m very relaxed and I’m enjoying all of it.

“Most of the latter years, I was doing it, there was a tremendous amount of pressure – I’ve got nothing to prove now, I’m enjoying it. That’s why I’m riding so well – I’m very relaxed.”

Indeed he is. There will doubtless be many more moments on this long farewell tour to cheer this summer. And when it is finally all over and he rides off into the sunset of retirement, the housewives will have long forgiven him.

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