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Timing of Frankie Dettori’s ‘retirement’ U-turn strikes an unfortunate bum note

Rumour mill had been fizzing since summer that Italian jockey would continue riding into 2024

Frankie Dettori’s Cheshire cat grin might be more sheepish at Ascot tomorrow should anyone announce to racing’s most famous figure they feel they’ve been sold a pup about his supposed “retirement”.

At the risk of breaching force and frequency rules on the animal metaphor, it’s hard not to conclude the Italian’s farewell tour has been bullshit.

It must also be said that’s ultimately no bad thing, for Dettori himself, for race fans, and for the sport itself.

The opportunity to continue watching a generational talent still at the top of his game at nearly 53 is something to be relished rather than resented. As the only personality to properly perforate the sport’s bubble into broader public consciousness there is an obvious dividend for racing in making the most of Dettori while it can.


Most of all, though, and on an individual level, only the most churlish can’t appreciate his desire to not have any regrets when he does eventually decide to hang up his boots. Feeling duty bound to not change his mind on the retirement declaration he made last December would have been intolerable for someone so clearly still willing and able to compete at the highest level.

Nevertheless, there’s no point pretending the manner of Dettori’s retirement reverse hasn’t left a tart taste and dented his public image at just the time he was enjoying peak popularity. Racing is always full of resentments but one grudge always sure to rouse public pique is not getting a run for your money.

When he announced 10 months ago that he would retire from the saddle at the end of 2023 it was unequivocal. Both Dettori and the public knew what the “R” word was and what it meant. And what it didn’t mean was any “British retirement” as those charged with the unenviable task of spinning tomorrow’s Champions Day action might strive to have us believe.

International trips to the Melbourne Cup, the Breeders Cup and Hong Kong in December were always factored in during Dettori’s lengthy Farewell Tour. What wasn’t was Dettori upping sticks to continue his career in California in 2024. And that’s for the very simple reason that such a move doesn’t constitute retirement.

Racing from Santa Anita or Del Mar is as available on our screens as Sandown or Down Royal. Shouting for Frankie will still be easy since racing’s global village is small and nowhere near big enough to contain as charismatic a personality as the old game’s had since Lester Piggott held his own very different kind of public fascination.

Never one to use a single world where none would do, Piggott famously did his own retirement U-turn. But, like most everything he did, it was hardly shouted from the rooftops. Part of Dettori’s appeal has always been the authentic contrast to such old-school instincts. But genuineness is a two-way street.

Dettori’s unique showmanship defined this season. Practically every big race and meeting got framed through a prism of Frankie’s final whatever. It included September’s Irish Champions Festival, complete with presentations and tributes on what was billed as his final Irish visit, only for him to be back in action at the Curragh a fortnight later.

None of which would matter except the racecourse rumour mill had long been fizzing about Dettori’s attitude to his farewell tour being more Sinatra than Bowie. His old mentor, Luca Cumani, indicated last week he has known since early summer that Dettori was going to carry on his career in California in 2024 but felt he couldn’t say so.

That’s fair enough. It’s hardly Cumani’s place to tell. However, Dettori could have pulled the brake on the farewell bandwagon by simply owning up to having changed his mind. It’s hard to imagine anyone quibbling with that. Any flak would certainly be the twittering of tiny birds compared to the depth of reaction to this late about-face.

Rightly or wrongly, a lot of people feel short-changed by racing’s great communicator, the guy who reportedly looked for a €15,000 appearance fee to include last month’s Listowel festival in his long goodbye. It doesn’t do to get too pious about this stuff, and Dettori has always been value for money, but the Kerry track’s response that they could rub along without him has been proved bang on.

Getting sporting retirements right can be tricky. Not everyone gets a fairy-tale farewell like the great quarterback John Elway who won the Superbowl and never picked up a football again.

Temperament also comes into it. Dettori’s old sparring partner Michael Kinane won everything on Sea The Stars in 2009 and waited until that December when everyone was looking at the jumps to make his low-key announcement. Ruby Walsh literally waved goodbye on the spot at Punchestown. AP McCoy had a two-month countdown.

Dettori says he’s done in Britain, but bookmakers make it odds-on he’ll be at Royal Ascot in 2024, presumably since he has form in the contradiction stakes.

And in the long run, being able to watch the little magician in action for a few years more is great. There’s more than three decades of evidence as to how hard it is to stay cross at Dettori. But this “addio” has struck an unfortunate bum note.


So many Champions Day calculations will revolve around whether ground conditions get so testing it prompts a switch to Ascot’s inner hurdles track. If there is a switch, then slightly quicker going there could help ABOVE THE CURVE (2.25) go close in the Filly & Mare. Very soft ground may see ANGEL BLEU (3.05) out-turn his odds in the QEII.