FRANKIE DETTORI is about to hit the big Five-0 . . . but the world’s greatest jockey isn’t in the final furlong just yet.
Dettori — still the best man for the biggest occasion — reaches his half-century on Tuesday, but there are no thoughts of calling it a day yet.
In fact if he carries on booting home the Group 1 winners, Frankie could even go on longer than Lester Piggott.
Lester famously returned from retirement to ride until he was 58 and Dettori hasn’t totally written off that prospect.
He admitted: “Fifty is a big number, and never something you even consider when you’re starting out.
“I remember turning 30 and saying I would probably retire at 40. Then at 40 I was saying the same again and now I’m reaching 50.
“But Lester came back and rode until he was 58 so hopefully I could be saying the same again in ten years.
“I’m not saying I will beat his record, but who knows.”
First up, though, is the birthday celebration — although that will be a strictly family affair with wife Catherine and children Leo, Ella, Mia, Tallula and Rocco.
Frankie revealed: “There’s not much we can do at the moment, so I’m taking the family to London.
“We’ll probably stay the night, go for a nice meal and do a bit of shopping. I’m pretending I am still 49 so I can do it all again next year!”
These days Frankie is one of the weighing room’s senior citizens, although he still bounces through life with all the enthusiasm of a teenager.
And the Italian with a winning smile to go with a winning style has no intention of growing up, whatever the date on his birth certificate.
He added: “When you walk into the weighing room it’s like walking into a bubble of all ages. You’re going from 16-year-old apprentices to 40-somethings, it covers the whole spectrum. You travel together, train together, ride together and keep each other young.
“It really is like a big family — a totally crazy one, but a fantastic one.”
Frankie has been the nation’s favourite for 30 years, with the beaming, cheeky grin, the famous flying dismount . . . and well over 3,000 winners to his name.
Seven of those came on one unforgettable afternoon at his beloved Ascot in 1996, when he went through the card, cleaned out the bookmakers — and made himself a national hero.
Even now the memory puts a huge smile on his face. He said: “That’s what really made the difference for me.
“All the talk was how it cost the bookmakers £40million, but it meant that the punters won £40million. It moved the stock market.
“I still get people coming up to me now, 24 years on, saying ‘thank you so much, you paid off my mortgage’ or ‘you paid for a great holiday’.
“It was a punter’s dream and exactly the same for me. My profile and racing’s profile would never have been the same without it. I will be forever grateful to that day and to the racing public.”
It is amazing to think that when Frankie first arrived in England as a fresh-faced teenager, racing’s stuffed suits felt he was too loud and brash.
He explained: “I came into the sport in the late 1980s when it was still really under the iron fist of the Jockey Club, seen as the sport of kings and Lester was very stone-faced.
“Sky was just starting to change so many sports like football, rugby and cricket and then racing began to move with the times as well.
“It became more accessible for the people and, although I was criticised for being too flamboyant at the start of my career, that was what TV wanted and I was the chosen one.
“Being Mediterranean, it came easy to me because I can’t hide my feelings and the fans can relate to that. They love that I am one of them.
“People at the races can relate to my moods, they can see I have the same excitement as them and that helped it go from being the sport of kings to the sport of everyone.”
There will be those who argue Piggott was the greatest jockey of all time. The young brigade may insist it’s Ryan Moore, while to the old guard it’s Sir Gordon Richards.
Frankie stands alongside any of them — but he is head and shoulders above them all as racing’s greatest character. Somehow you can’t ever imagine Lester launching himself out of the saddle after a big win. For Dettori, it has become his trademark.
He has been doing it for nearly 30 years and will carry on as long as there is bounce in the legs.
Frankie added: “I did my first on Barathea in 1994 after the Breeders’ Cup Mile. I’d practised it as a kid and decided to do it in public.
“Fortunately I landed on my feet — if I hadn’t they would probably have booed. I’ll keep doing it, but the old ankles and knees aren’t what they used to be so it’s getting harder!”
The way Frankie keeps going, those creaking joints are in for a few more hammerings before he weighs out for a final time.
Until then he will keep on riding, keep on smiling and keep on winning. His adoring public will accept nothing less.
It’s a love affair that is most definitely mutual, as he admitted: “It has been fantastic and I am so grateful to the public.
“I’d also like to take this chance to say a big thank you to Sun Racing for their great coverage of our sport — and to all SE’s loyal readers.”
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