Roses On His Bucket List: Frankie Dettori At Santa Anita Hoping To 'Stumble Into A Very Good 3-Year-Old' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Roses On His Bucket List: Frankie Dettori At Santa Anita Hoping To ‘Stumble Into A Very Good 3-Year-Old’

Frankie Dettori (Ascot Racecourse Photo)

Long considered the greatest European-based jockey since Lester Piggot, Italian-born Lanfranco (Frankie) Dettori is returning to Santa Anita to ride full-time for the first time in more than 30 years on the track's Classic Meet opening day, Monday, Dec. 26.

Recently paired with top agent Ron Anderson, Dettori, who lives near Newmarket, England, first announced his plans to ride at Santa Anita a month ago and in an expansive interview via telephone, detailed his intentions and career goals as he approaches his 52nd birthday on Dec. 15.

Married with five grown children, Dettori, a native of Milan, Italy and the son of retired Italian Champion Jockey Gianfranco Dettori, recalls the relationships he forged as a teenager with American racing icons such as Bill Shoemaker, Charlie Whittingham, Neil Drysdale and others.

Along with 500 Group Stakes wins, Dettori, who is a member of the prestigious British Champions Series Hall of Fame, is also a winner of 14 Breeders' Cup races in North America, including the 2008 Classic at Santa Anita with the John Gosden-trained Raven's Pass.

Dettori, whose dynamic personality and signature flying dismounts have enabled his European celebrity to transcend the bounds of racing, has ridden in more than 18 countries and has endorsed products such as “Jockey” yogurt in Europe and has had prominent television roles in shows such as British-based “Celebrity Big Brother” and the BBC's quiz show “A Question of Sport.”

At home in Stetchworth, England, Dettori agreed to a question and answer session Tuesday morning.

Q. Frankie, first of all, sincere thanks for making the decision to ride full-time at Santa Anita this winter. This is truly great news and your presence alone will generate significant additional interest in our Classic Meet here at The Great Race Place. What factors led to your decision to begin riding here on Dec. 26?

A. I was actually thinking of coming over in the middle of January because I had some commitments in South America and I was thinking of going on a bit of a tour there. But, Ron approached me. He's a good friend of mine. He's probably one of the best agents in the world, I've known him since I was a kid. He said 'Listen, if you'll come along for (opening day) at Santa Anita and start when everybody else starts, there's a better chance that we can get the ball rolling and have a good winter.' And so I changed my plans and I spoke to my children. They're grown up now. I said 'I'm not going to be here for Christmas.'

They're adults now, they're attending university and so on and they don't believe in Santa Claus anymore, all they do is (jokingly) want money…So it was a mutual decision, so that's why I'm coming over and I'm going to start on Boxing Day (traditional British holiday the day after Christmas). It's very important to start on opening day with everyone else and have an equal chance to do well.

Q. You've ridden all over the world and have had a superstar career in every respect. Although it's been a long time, this will not be your first time riding here in Southern California. You were here in 1987 at age 17 and you were around people like Bill Shoemaker. You actually lived here in Sierra Madre one winter. What are your recollections of that time so long ago when your career was just beginning to take flight?

A. I remember riding at Santa Anita on Shoe's last day as a jockey (Feb. 3, 1990). I didn't ride in any races with him, but I rode that same day that he retired. I saw all the celebration and just being in the Jockeys' Room when he was there is something I'll never forget. Back at that time, I got to meet so many people. I got to meet Charlie Whittingham and I galloped some horses for him.

It was an amazing time to be there. I saw great horses, champions…Ferdinand, Alysheba and then soon after, Sunday Silence. I saw some amazing horses and some amazing jockeys as well. So basically, my career has come full circle. Thirty five years later, I'm going to be back to where I started.

Q. In addition to your incredible international resume, you've won a total of 14 Breeders' Cup races here in North America, including the 2008 Classic here at Santa Anita with John Gosden's Raven's Pass. That said, with Ron Anderson now managing your business, is the 2023 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita on your radar?

A. To be honest, the Breeders' Cup is a million miles away. The only important thing for me at this time, is coming to California, to start doing well, ride some winners and fingers, crossed, I might stumble into a very good 3-year-old that would take me to Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May.

I'm shooting at the stars at the moment, but you never know…I'm not speculating about anything, but I'm going to give it my all and I'm going to enjoy it. To me, I'm going to be around some people I've known most of my life, guys like Mike Smith, Johnny Velazquez, Neil Drysdale and other people in California. As far as my business now goes, obviously winning the Dubai World Cup this year (with Country Grammer) for Bob Baffert helps a bit.

Q. I get the impression that winning the Kentucky Derby is very much on Frankie Dettori's Bucket List?

A. Oh, of course, and not just me, every jockey…But unfortunately, the Kentucky Derby falls on the same day as our 2000 Guineas (Group 1, for 3-year-olds going one mile at Newmarket) which is the first leg in our Triple Crown. As a Walmac (Farm) guy, I've actually got a very live mount in it, but we'll see what the spring will bring…I'm not going to speculate, but everything at the moment is open and I'll just see what happens.

Q. Back to your agent, Ron Anderson. He's come here in recent years with Johnny Velazquez and Joel Rosario. They've done very well over the winter and then they've shifted their tack to Kentucky and New York following the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Is this a path you're likely to follow?

A. To be honest, I haven't figured out anything yet. My first focus is opening day at Santa Anita. My second focus is to get a live mount for the Pegasus World Cup (Invitational, Grade 1 at Gulfstream Park Jan. 28). My third focus is to hopefully try to get back on Country Grammer for the Saudi Cup (Group 1 in February). And in between, we spend the time at Santa Anita and hopefully find a nice 3-year-old. And then we go into March and the better races are starting for those horses and there's the Dubai World Cup, the Santa Anita Handicap…I just want to take one step at a time. Yes, I'm going to be on airplanes. I love it!

Q. Looking at where you're at, in addition to having tremendous God-given ability, your enthusiasm and out-going personality have also been huge factors in your long-term success. You'll be 52 on Dec. 15. Are those internal fires to succeed still burning as hot as ever and if so, beyond money-won, what motivates you to continue?

A. That's one of the reasons I'm coming to California. I need a new challenge, a new target. I'll definitely ride next year, after that, I don't know. So I'm taking one year at a time. I like to travel. I like to challenge myself in different places and that's what keeps me going. It'll be good to get back to memory lane in Southern California. That's where I started…So I'm going to try to enjoy my time there as much as I can.

Q. Frankie, you've got a great life, a great family with your wife Catherine and five kids. As you mentioned, your kids are grown, but how does everyone feel about you coming to Santa Anita this winter?

A. To be honest, they're kind of used to it. The last few years, I've been in Dubai by myself. They're pleased for me because they see that I'm very excited about it. I've got their support, which is very important. It's easier now for me to spend time away because they've got university, they've got things to do and they understand. It's much harder when you have young kids. It doesn't make my job any easier, but I have their full support.

Q. Speaking of family, your father, Gianfranco, was a 13-time Champion rider in Italy. Is he still involved in racing?

A. My dad is 81 and he's fully retired. He spends all his life watching me ride on TV. You know, he and my mom actually came with me one winter when I rode at Santa Anita and stayed with me for three months in Sierra Madre. He understands what I'm doing and he's actually more excited than me that I'm coming over this winter. It'll give him something to watch in the evening.

Q. Lastly, everybody knows that good horses help to make good jockeys and good trainers. Aside from getting the right horses in the right races, in your opinion, what separates great jockeys from average or good jockeys?

A. Well, I think first of all, you've got to use your natural instincts. Obviously in my case, I've got a lot of experience. But then, you've got to have the love of the horse. I love the horse. The horse has a sixth sense. He's feels like you feel. We use horses for disabled people, blind people, deaf people…The horse knows, they're intuitive. I think a good jockey transmits good vibes to the horse to give him his best chance to succeed.

Entries for Santa Anita's Classic Meet opening day will be taken Dec. 21. The 47-day Classic Meet will run through April 9 and be followed by Santa Anita's 27-day Spring Meet, which begins on April 22 and concludes on June 18. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com.

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