Work in Sports
Inside Horse Racing
Posted: Tuesday November 09, 1999 04:44 PM
Breeders' Cup Sprint
Flamboyant rider Frankie Dettori redeemed himself at the Breeders' Cup
By William Nack
From the moment he swept to the wire in the Breeders' Cup Turf race until well after he skipped through the Gulfstream Park grandstand, stopping to gulp a beer a fan had given him, jockey Frankie Dettori looked and acted like a prisoner set suddenly free. Not only is Dettori among the most gifted race riders in Europe -- a champion in Great Britain who once piloted all seven winners on an Ascot card -- but he is also the sport's most flamboyant showman. So it was last Saturday, as he drove Daylami to a 2 1/2-length victory in the 1 1/2-mile Turf, that Dettori pumped his right fist and then crossed himself as he hit the wire, raised his arms and threw his helmet high in the air when the crowd greeted him on his return. He added a final flourish by performing a leaping dismount that sent him skyward like a pilot blown from his cockpit -- a young Angel Cordero suspended in midair. "I'm on top of the world!" Dettori cried as he headed toward the interview room, tasting the beer. "Top of the world!"
This year's Breeders' Cup was hardly the ideal venue for his redemption. With victories in three of Britain's most important races for older horses -- culminating in his nine-length triumph in the Sept. 11 Irish Champion Stakes -- Daylami had emerged under Dettori as the most capable racehorse in Europe, if not the world. But in the Oct. 3 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Europe's most important race, the smooth-moving gray finished ninth, beaten by 23 1/2 lengths, after getting bounced around in a rain-drenched bog.
When Daylami's owner, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, decided to ship him from his stable in Ireland to Gulfstream, the question was not only what ill effects that last race might have had on the horse but also how he would cope with the muggy weather. European horses, which begin growing winter coats in the cool of early autumn, have tended to look flat in the sun's Miami vise: In two previous Breeders' Cups at Gulfstream, they had gone 0 for 28. To lure the reluctant Europeans, Cup officials this year promised to expand housing from two to four barns -- to minimize crowding and, consequently, body heat -- and install air-conditioning units.
Despite all that -- and a cool front that blew through -- the Europeans were 0-10 in Saturday's Cup races by the time Dettori climbed aboard Daylami. Tracking a hot pace, patiently saving ground, Dettori swung the horse outside the leaders on the final turn and had them all beaten by midstretch, soaring grandly to the front and then racing home alone. It was easily the day's most sublime performance.
Dettori got what he wanted. "Revenge is a plate you eat cold, and mine was freezing," he said. "I redeemed myself today." Daylami showed what he had, too, demonstrating that he's the finest racehorse in the world. And, on a day when all bona fide U.S. candidates for Horse of the Year went south to the Keys, he laid his emphatic claim to that title, too.
No trainer in Breeders' Cup history has had more impact on the series than D. Wayne Lukas. Going into this year's event, he had won six more Cup races (13) and taken home $5 million more in Cup winnings ($13 million) than his nearest rivals, Shug McGaughey and William Mott, respectively. Not only that, but Lukas has been at his best in the Cup when the greatest forces have been arrayed against him.
This year he thrived again, against a formidable stable of horses saddled by archrival Bob Baffert, who in five races had either favorites or strong contenders, including Horse of the Year candidates Silverbulletday and River Keen and undefeated juvenile filly Chilukki. Baffert went winless. In the day's first major upset, a Lukas-trained 33-1 shot, Cash Run, ran away from Chilukki in the stretch to win the Juvenile Fillies. In the Classic, Lukas dispatched Cat Thief, a 20-1 shot who'd won only one stakes race in 11 tries all year, against River Keen and Baffert's other fine colt, General Challenge, as well as several other accomplished foes. Cat Thief battled tenaciously for the lead throughout the 10 furlongs before running off to win by 1 1/4 lengths. After the race one professional handicapper deadpanned, "I wouldn't have bet Cat Thief with Confederate money."
In a year in which Lukas trained a former claimer, Charismatic, to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, this Classic was the crowning touch -- by the trainer of the year.
Early on the morning of Nov. 4, two days before the Sprint, Artax stood outside Barn 16 at Gulfstream Park getting fitted with glue-on shoes while his owner, Ernie Paragallo, watched. The colt required the special footwear because of a bruise that had been found on his right hoof on the day of his last race, the Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont, on Oct. 16. Despite the injury, Artax set the track record for six furlongs that day (1:07 3/5). "He's the fastest horse on the planet," said Paragallo as the farrier worked.
That was a bold assertion. Though Artax's talent is unquestioned, the big bay was far from a lock on Saturday, due largely to his inconsistency this year. He'd won only three times in 14 starts and had shown a maddening tendency to break dead last from the gate.
He had found his stride this fall, however, decisively winning his last two starts. "He really blossomed," his trainer, Louis Albertrani, said last Saturday. "I'm not sure why. It got cooler, and he trained exceptionally."
In the Sprint the colt jumped from the gate, stalked a blistering pace down the backstretch, seized the lead midway through the turn and held off a driving Kona Gold to win by a half-length. In the process he equaled the six-furlong track record of 1:07 4/5, set in 1973 by his great-grandfather, Mr. Prospector, and left little doubt as to who was the best sprinter of 1999.
Issue date: November 15, 1999