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Frankie Dettori – Horse Racing’s Superstar

One of horse racing’s most famous jockeys would have to be Frankie Dettori. He has been the Champion Jockey three times in his career and he has ridden more than 500 winners in group races. He is an honourable and extremely decorated horse racing jockey of which his win at the 1996 British Championship Day was the biggest.

In 2015 he was named as the World’s Best Jockey at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and people like Lester Piggot still describes him as the best jockey in English horse racing. He has experienced a few stumbles along the way, but he still remains a true racing celebrity as well as a national treasure.

Early Years

Born in Italy on 15 December 1970, Lanfranco “Frankie” Dettori already found himself in the prominent spheres of horse racing society. He was born to Gianfranco Dettori who was an avid horse racing jockey himself. At the age of 12 Lanfranco started showing interest in his very first horse riding event following his birthday. His father had bought him his very own pony which he rode quite often. At the age of 13 he became a stable boy and an apprentice jockey, and thereafter he went to Great Britain to become a more trained stable jockey.

In 1990, Dettori earned his first big title when he became the first teenager since Lester Piggot to ride 100 winners. His first win came in at the age of 16 which took place in Turin in 1986. His first British victory took place in the following year. He continued picking up the pace and soon before long he had made quite the name for himself.

Going Through the Card – and Bankrupting the Bookies

In 1996 at the British Championship Day at Ascot racecourse, Dettori achieved the incredible feat of winning all 7 races in a single day – called “going through the card” – something that made him an instant legend amongst punters and bankrupting at least one bookie in the process and costing others millions of pounds. One of the bankrupted bookies, Gary Wiltshere, lost over £800,000 that day as punters piled on more and more of their cash on Frankie’s horses as the day went on and the unfortunate layer was forced to sell his house, car and most of his possessions to pay everything back.

It is a feat that had very few jockeys have ever completed and the combined odds in the morning of Dettori winning all seven races was around 240,000 to 1. It has been compared to a golfer birdying all 18 holes on a golf course or a footballer scoring five consecutive hat-tricks. 

Scandal Strikes

However, in the late 90s scandal struck Dettori as he was investigated for using illegal substances during the racing season. He admitted that he used diuretic drugs in order to keep his weight down. He also admitted to using an even wider range of drugs on a regular occasion before it had been banned in 1998. He underwent numerous drug tests which confirmed the extensive use of these drugs and the regularity by which Dettori used them.

A Close Escape and Life Away from Racing

Despite this spat between Dettori and the Jockey Club, he received an honorary Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2000. Thereafter he decided that it was time for him to give the competitive world of horseracing a break. In the same year he was in a plane crash whilst on his way to Sussex. The pilot was killed but Dettori escaped with a fractured right ankle and an injured thumb.

He starred in the BBC quiz show A Question of Sport, but soon retired in 2003 as the team captain. The reason for this was that he was stung by a question regarding his retirement from horse racing. Since that quiz show he has found his way back to professional horse jockey racing and started immediate training. In 2004, he competed in his first championship since his retirement and he was awarded the British Champion Jockey award. In 2006 he experienced another bout of bad luck when thieves broke into his house and stole some of his gold medals and a gold trophy he had won in Japan.

One of the only English races Dettori had not yet won was the Epsom Derby. However, he completed and won this race for the first time in 2007 on board Authorized. The day after he had won this race he won the Prix du Jockey Club on Lawman, notching a memorable double derby. Dettori would capture his second Epsom Derby eight years later on Golden Horn in 2015.

The Face of Yoghurt

His face soon became popular and commercial once again. Soon after he completed his double derby, he became the face of Jockey yogurt. This was sold across Europe and was especially popular in France. By adding his face to the campaign, sales shot through the roof during the years that followed.

In 2012 his past run-ins with drugs surfaced again when he failed a drug test in France. In December of that same year he was suspended from professional horse racing as he tested positive for using illegal substances. This prohibited substance was believed to be cocaine, something far worse than his previous contraventions. He released a statement through his lawyer in which he apologized and said that he realized that he had let down the sport, its participants, and its fans.

In 2013 he pursued more commercial aspects when he entered the eleventh series of Celebrity Big Brother – he was voted off fifth. After his 6-month ban was lifted, he continued to ride again professionally, starting with the Epsom Derby in 2013. A week after he started, he won his first race yet again.

Still Going Strong 

He has been a retained rider for Godolphin Racing, but soon quit this to become a freelance rider. He has signed contracts with other endorsers, but it would seem like he prefers to ride solo. He has since then competed in many different events all over the world from Britain, to Europe, to middle-eastern countries such as Bahrain. It is clear that he is not yet ready to hang up his shoes for a final time.

Standing in at 1.64m, Dettori is the perfect build for a jockey. He currently lives with many others in Stetchworth near Newmarket in Suffolk. He is married to his wife Catherine, and together they have 5 children: Leo, Ella, Mia, Tallula, and Rocco. He is a typical English boy when he is at home, supporting his favourite football team Arsenal all the way. He also has an insane passion for food and in 2004 he opened a little restaurant in London: Frankie’s Bar and Grill with chef Marco Pierre White as partner. Together these two have opened 3 other restaurants in their names all over the world.

With such an effusive personality, exhilarating style and brilliant career, it is no wonder that Frankie Dettori is perhaps the best known jockey in British racing – a true racing superstar. 

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