The 2023 flat campaign has been spectacular for many reasons, with a number of stars confirming their brilliance and new talent exploding into the limelight. Coursing through it all has been the farewell tour of one of the greatest jockeys of the modern era, as following the announcement of his retirement, Frankie Dettori completed an extensive lap of honour of the British tracks.
With wins in the 2000 Guineas, Oaks, Ascot Gold Cup, and more, it’s fair to say that Dettori’s journey into the racing sunset has gone rather well. He also recently clocked up his 500th win at Newmarket. So well that he has had second thoughts, and now won’t be hanging up his silks after all. October 2023 brought confirmation of the news that many in the racing world had been suspecting. Champions Day at Ascot is scheduled to be his last meeting on British shores but, rather than reaching for the pipe and slippers, the 52-year-old will instead head across the Atlantic to continue his career in the USA, with a plum ride in the Kentucky Derby being the ultimate aim. Failing to rule out future rides in the major international events, could we perhaps see Frankie at Royal Ascot 2024? Don’t bet against it, particularly given his association with US handler Wesley Ward, who regularly sends a strong team to the British showpiece.
On the more immediate agenda for Frankie is adding to what is already an impressive body of work in US racing. During his illustrious career, Frankie has picked up top-level wins in 16 different countries, and the USA certainly hasn’t been immune to his talents, with 15 Grade 1 successes registered in the land of stars and stripes. Here, we take a look at five of the best.
5. Crimson Palace – Beverly D Stakes 2004
Formerly trained in South Africa by Mike De Kock, Crimson Palace had displayed talent in her homeland, notably when landing the Group 1 Cape Paddock Stakes, before making the switch to the Godolphin-backed Saeed bin Suroor operation at the beginning of the 2004 season and teaming up with Dettori for the first time.
Running a cracker to finish a close fourth in the Dubai Duty Free at Nad Al Sheba on her first start for the yard, she then backed that up with a win in the Group 3 Middleton Stakes before bombing out as favourite in the Group 2 Windsor Forest Stakes. That display left the five-year-old with questions against her name headed into the Grade 1 Beverly D Stakes at Arlington but, as he has so often in his career, Frankie had all the answers, as he grabbed a first top-level US success.
4. Expert Eye – Breeders’ Cup Mile 2018
More renowned for his success with older horses, Sir Michael Stoute looked to have a superstar juvenile on his hands at the start of the 2017 season. Expert Eye put in a sizzling display to land the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, only to then finish last of 10 in the Dewhurst Stakes
Fast forward to the colt’s Classic campaign, and Expert Eye bounced back with a pair of Group 3 wins, but, having fallen short in the 2000 Guineas, Sussex Stakes, and Prix Du Moulin, a top-level success remained elusive. And then came the Breeders’ Cup Mile. A win didn’t look likely rounding the home bend, but with Frankie in the saddle for only the second time, Expert Eye stayed on best to get up in the shadow of the post.
3. Ouija Board – Breeders’ Cip Filly & Mare Turf 2006
Ed Dunlop has had many great horses pass through his Newmarket yard over the years, but perhaps none so talented as this brilliant mare by Cape Cross. A sensational seven-length winner of The Oaks in 2004, she followed up in the Irish Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf under Kieren Fallon during an exceptional Classic campaign. Further Group 1 success followed in the Hong Kong Vase at four and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and Nassau Stakes at five.
With such an impressive CV, Ouija Board started as the 6/4 market leader for the 2006 version of this event at Churchill Downs, and Frankie wasn’t about to disappoint favourite backers. Travelling smoothly behind the leaders, Dettori switched Ouija Board to the outside in the straight, allowing his willing mount to stamp her class all over a quality field to become the first and, as of 2022, only dual winner of this prestigious event.
2. Enable – Breeders’ Cup Turf 2018
From one superstar mare to another, this time in the shape of the John Gosden-trained Enable. Of the great horses to have lit up the latter stages of Dettori’s career, this 11-time Group 1 winner is just about the best of the bunch. Her wins in the English and Irish Oaks, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (twice), and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (twice), have helped make the Juddmonte Farms runner one of the most popular horses of the 21st Century.
Dominant on the European scene, Enable was given her chance to shine stateside in the 2018 edition of this excellent event. The talented Magical, future Arc winner Waldgeist, and the best of the home team contributed towards a competitive renewal, and Magical certainly put up a fight in the straight, but Enable would not be passed, for another famous Frankie success.
1. Raven’s Pass – Breeders’ Cup Classic 2008
Of the Grade 1 events at the Breeders’ Cup meeting, this 1m2f contest is the one they all want to win. However, given the dirt surface – so unfamiliar to European runners – it is a notoriously difficult prize for the British yards to grasp. So difficult, in fact, that only one British trainer has achieved the feat in the history of the race. That momentous occasion came in 2008, when the John Gosden-trained Raven’s Pass proved too good for them all.
The story of the 2008 colts Classic season was peppered with titanic tussles between Raven’s Pass and the Aidan O’Brien-trained star Henrythenavigator. The Ballydoyle ace came out on top in the 2000 Guineas, St. James’s Palace Stakes and Sussex Stakes, with Raven’s Pass gaining his first win over that rival in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. All of which set things up nicely as the pair locked horns once more in one of the biggest events of the US season. In the end, both European raiders handled the switch to dirt with aplomb, but under a strong Dettori drive, it was Raven’s Pass who grabbed gold, with his old rival back in second.