There will be plenty of very noticeable differences at Royal Ascot this year with the meeting taking place behind closed doors – but the sight of Frankie Dettori producing fireworks on the track will almost certainly not be one of them.
With a book of rides to make him the envy of the weighing room, the popular Italian looks in a good place to bid for back-to-back leading jockey titles at a meeting that has yielded some of the greatest highlights of his glittering career.
His trademark flying dismounts may be kept to a minimum with the crowds he thrives off not in attendance, but despite the changes put in place in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Dettori remains as eager as ever to get Flat racing’s summer highlight started.
Dettori said: “I think I have the majority of my rides sorted. I have some handicaps still to fill in.
“I’ve got two or three for Wesley Ward and Mark Johnston, but most are for John (Gosden). You go into Royal Ascot with lots of hopefuls and you just have to roll the dice and hope for the best. Once the stalls open, it’s business as usual.
“I’ve got some lovely horses to ride next week. I don’t think the standard of racing is any different. It is pure quality as always. It is brilliant the Irish horses can come over as it makes Royal Ascot more real and we have to provide the racing public with good racing.”
While having had time to adjust to the current situation of racing behind closed doors since the sport’s resumption after a 76-day lockdown earlier this month, Dettori admits it will feel strange racing in front of empty stands.
He said: “It is the Olympics of Flat racing, but it will be weird if you do win a race and there is only yourself and the trainer and not thousands cheering you on as you walk back.
“It will be different and it will not be the same in that sense, but as far as the competition and racing goes it will be exactly the same. I thrive on a big crowd so I will miss it, but I can’t change it.
“Luckily in England we still have the commentator, as in France it is completely quiet. At least the commentator creates a bit of atmosphere.”
Standout rides do not come much bigger than attempting to steer Stradivarius to a third successive Gold Cup win – and Dettori feels the son of the Sea The Stars is where he needs to be, given his fine run in defeat in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket.
Dettori said: “With John everything he runs has got a chance, but Stradivarius is the obvious one that stands out.
“It was a good prep run at Newmarket back over a trip that was too short for him. Although he doesn’t have Kew Gardens to deal with now, that is not to say it will be easy.
“As for the two-year-old races they are going to be very different. I’m relying on Wesley Ward’s ultra-fit flying machines and hopefully they will have a bit of an advantage.”
Picking up good outside rides has never been a problem for Dettori and in the Denis Hogan-trained Sceptical, who is favourite for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday, he looks to have landed on his feet again.
Dettori added: “It is bad luck the young Irish jockey (Joey Sheridan) can’t come over to ride him. He is a good sprinter, but we are taking on some very good horses so it won’t be an easy task.
“He is a horse that is in good form, though, and seems on an upward curve. I did watch his race and he was great. It looked straightforward and he absolutely bolted up.”
When it comes to the jockey most likely to stop Dettori capturing the prized title of leading rider at the meeting once again, there is only one name he puts forward – that of fellow three-times champion jockey Ryan Moore.
He said: “I think it will be a lot tougher this year to win the leading jockey prize as I had a decent book of rides last year.
“Ryan Moore always sets the standard, as he is guaranteed four or five winners and you have to match him or get more. Aidan O’Brien will be very strong and he has got Sir Michael Stoute as well behind him.
“Ascot has never let me down before and though it will be different, I’m very excited.”
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