EXCLUSIVE: Frankie goes to Hollywood! Dettori’s retirement U-turn was sparked by his non-stop success this year… with the 52-year-old relishing a fresh challenge of taking on the Americans in their backyard
- Frankie Dettori has revealed plans to move to the US despite vowing to retire
- The legendary jockey previously claimed the 2023 season would be his last
- The 52-year-old said he ‘can’t stop’ and wanted to continue his winning run
If Frankie Dettori had doubts about a decision to extend his career next year in sunny southern California, they were swept away on a rainy, overcast Thursday morning alongside the River Thames.
Jumping off a trampoline to mimic his trademark flying dismount in a publicity stunt for what will be billed as his final British appearance at Qipco Champions Day at Ascot a week on Saturday unsurprisingly compares unfavourably with riding in wall-to-wall sunshine for a man who has vowed never to spend another winter in this country.
The racetrack of Santa Anita with palm trees scattered around the in-field and the spectacular San Gabriel mountains as a backdrop is to become the base for the Italian. From there he aims to launch a challenge for next May’s Kentucky Derby, the biggest race in the US and one of the few big races on the globe which has still eluded him.
Confirming a rethink of retirement, Dettori, who turns 53 on December 15, said he feels re-invigorated by the new challenge and relocating to the west coast of America with wife Catherine.
Feeding into Dettori’s decision is how well he was received when riding at Santa Anita at the start of this year when he landed 25 wins from 157 rides, scooping $2,123,496 (approximately £1.74m) in prize money at the winter meeting which starts on Boxing Day.
Frankie Dettori (above) is ready to continue his riding career after shelving retirement plans
The jockey enjoyed riding at Santa Anita at the start of this year when he landed 25 wins
Dettori told Mail Sport: ‘I am the sort of person who gets stale so I needed a new challenge. What else is left for me here? Repetition, doing the same thing again? That’s why this new adventure will fit me like a glove.
‘It would have been much easier for me to accept retirement if I had not been doing well. Things have turned out completely opposite to how I thought they would.
‘I expected that I would be saying my last goodbyes and my rides would fizzle out. I thought I would go out by the backdoor and disappear into the sunset.
‘But I went to America and it was a great success. I came back and I won the 2,000 Guineas, the Oaks, the Juddmonte International, the Prix Jacques Le Marois and had four wins at Royal Ascot. It has been non-stop.
‘My ratio of rides to winners in Group races has been through the roof. The popularity and the success I have had has made me rethink.
‘I spoke to Catherine and my parents. I said, “I am doing so well I am not ready to let go’’. I thought what’s the options? To do one more year in England. I have achieved everything here so was that a big enough incentive?
‘I loved it in California last year. The lifestyle suits me much better. The weather is great, there is no travelling. It’s a new challenge taking on the Americans in their backyard and I will try to win the Kentucky Derby. They are all the things that make me tick.’
The fact Dettori’s five children have all now flown the nest also meant a move overseas was logistically feasible.
Dettori is widely considered one of the greatest jockeys of all time after a 35-year career
His love affair with Santa Anita goes back to the 1980s, when he was sent to the US as a teenager to hone his riding skills. It was a huge adventure.
Without the appropriate work visa — Dettori had a tourist visa — he had to be smuggled into the track often in the boot of a car. It was there he met his idol Angel Cordero, the jockey who first did the flying dismount which Dettori adopted while perfecting his aerodynamic crouch.
Santa Anita, not far from Hollywood, is like a film set. It was used for the film Seabiscuit. During the December to June season, it races four days a week — Thursday to Sunday — for prize money that would make British-based jockeys green with envy.
Dettori will live close to the track, possibly in affluent Pasadena, and if he needs inspiration, he will only have to look across the changing room to ‘Big Money’ Mike Smith, the 58-year-old jockey who has won close to £300million during his career and is still in demand.
US owners lapped up Dettori last winter, begging him to do his flying dismount with them in the picture no matter how small the race. Having again appointed top agent Ron Anderson, who also represents leading jockeys Joel Rosario and John Velazquez, support can be expected from trainers like Bob Baffert.
Dettori added: ‘I love Santa Anita. It is a beautiful racecourse. When I left last winter everyone was begging me to come back. I put in the foundations so hopefully I can carry on where I left off.
‘I will go as long as my success and physical ability allow. I haven’t set a date on it. If it goes well, who knows? I am under no pressure to put a date on it.’
Races in Saudi Arabia and Dubai this winter are also likely to be on the agenda for his new American bosses but what about a return to Royal Ascot next summer?
The Italian shocked racing fans last year by announcing the 2023 season would be his last
Dettori said: ‘It depends how the American calendar fits into my schedule. I am not going to start going back and forwards every weekend.
‘I am committed to America. If Royal Ascot did happen I would not say no but at this moment in time I don’t know.
‘It is not my priority. It is to have a nice winter and try to get a horse for the Kentucky Derby.’
In January, Dettori posted a picture standing in front of the iconic Hollywood sign and bearing the message ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood’. Now Mr Box Office is going back.
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