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    Horse racing: Frankie Dettori’s ‘bizarre’ ride may lead back here
    • May 30, 2024

    ARCADIA — Frankie Dettori said so long, arrivederci and au revoir to Santa Anita on Monday as horse racing’s globetrotting superstar rode here for probably the last time this season before moving on to his next midlife adventure.

    In any of the languages the Italian-born jockey gets along in, it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.

    After putting off a planned retirement, moving from England to the United States and competing at Santa Anita this winter and spring, Dettori now says he wants to keep going through 2025 and may be back in Arcadia for the 2024-25 season.

    “I can’t see too far in the future,” Dettori said as he walked from trackside to the jockeys’ room, cheerful as ever despite just having finished next to last in a maiden race. “But I’m going back to the East Coast for the Belmont (Stakes) weekend at Saratoga. I’ll fly back (to England) that night for my daughter’s wedding. And then, I would say, at the moment, I’m 90% sure that I’m going to Saratoga for the meet.

    “Obviously there’s big races at Del Mar, so don’t be surprised if I fly in for the odd day. And then, in the fall, I don’t know.”

    He’ll be at the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar on Nov. 1-2.

    “There’s a good possibility that I come back (to Santa Anita) next winter,” Dettori said. “I really enjoyed it.”

    If it’s tiring for a mere mortal to listen to Dettori’s tentative itinerary, it seems to invigorate the 53-year-old race-riding legend who’s doing all that travel, sustained as he is by thoughts of new places for him and his wife Catherine to see, tracks to try out, jockeys to test himself against.

    It has been one of the pleasures of the Santa Anita season that ends June 16 to watch Dettori ride here, knowing that the man who has won the biggest events in almost every racing nation, who would be welcome at any track in the world, chose this as the place to be.

    After announcing in December 2022 that he’d retire after 2023, he came to Santa Anita for what was expected to be a winding-down of his career. But owners and trainers still gave him good horses and he still rode them well, finishing third in wins at the 2022-23 Santa Anita meet. He was back in the fall for the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, winning the Filly & Mare Turf aboard Inspiral.

    This year, he was fourth in the Santa Anita standings with 34 wins (21% of starts) during the Dec. 26-April 7 “Classic Meet” stretch of the track’s calendar. The wins included his first Santa Anita Handicap, with Newgate, and a Santa Anita record-tying six winning rides in a row on Santa Anita Derby day. The Big ‘Cap win occasioned one of Dettori’s trademark flying dismounts.

    Frankie Dettori jumps for joy after guiding Newgate to victory in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 3, 2024, at Santa Anita Park. (Benoit Photo)

    Just as amazing is seeing Dettori – through agent Ron Anderson – accepting mounts on cheaper, non-stakes horses.

    “He’ll ride a stakes race, and then he’ll ride a claiming race, and he rides just as hard,” Bob Baffert, who trains Newgate, marveled. “He loves what he does and he’s very competitive. He might be funny (and have) the personality, but he wants to compete.

    “A lot of (winners), he just wills ’em in.”

    After Dettori announced his intended retirement, he was honored in England by a statue (unveiled by Queen Camilla) at Ascot, where he rode all seven winners on a card in 1996, and a mural covering one end of the grandstand at Epsom Downs, where he won English Derbies with Authorized in 2007 and Golden Horn in 2015. He says the honors and ceremonies were one reason he opted to go to America. He feared he’d “insult” Britain by continuing to ride there.

    In California, he’s recognized rarely outside the racetrack.

    “Only by the Brits!” he says. “It’s actually a good thing. When I’m in England, I’m forever looking over my shoulder. In fairness, they’re (fans) all nice. But you feel like you’re being watched the whole time. I get this sense of freedom here. Soccer players coming here, the (David) Beckhams, kind of feel the same.”

    Santa Anita feels like home, in a way, since Dettori rode here at the start of his career in the 1980s, learning from Hall of Famers Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye and Gary Stevens.

    Standing on the path to the Santa Anita jockeys’ room, he turned and looks at the paddock gardens and the nearly 90-year-old grandstand like a man beholding Sophia Loren.

    “It’s stunning,” he said. “I’m so lucky to be able to ride (here).”

    Now he’s off. To Penn National, in Grantville, Pennsylvania, to ride First World War in Friday’s Penn Mile. To Monmouth Park, in Oceanport, N.J., to ride Twirling Point in Saturday’s Jersey Derby. Then to Saratoga, in upstate New York, where the Belmont Stakes is being held June 8 while Belmont Park is renovated; Dettori didn’t have a Belmont mount as of Thursday, and a win in a U.S. Triple Crown race remains a rare miss on his worldwide to-do list.

    At Saratoga’s main summer meet, Dettori’s focus will be horses sent over by British champion trainer Charlie Appleby.

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    “It’s all bizarre,” he said of his schedule, “but fun.”

    Retirement it’s not.

    “I would definitely like to do this year and next year. Definitely,” Dettori said. “Then it depends on my body. If I still feel good, I’m still in demand, I’m still riding in the big races, that’s what keeps me going.”

    One thing is certain: “Until the day I stop, I’m a USA rider.”

    See you later.

    Follow Kevin Modesti on X (formerly Twitter) @Kevin Modesti.

    ​ Orange County Register