Back in Front
Flamboyant rider Frankie Dettori redeemed himself at the Breeders' Cup
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�-length victory in the 1�-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!"
He had missed sitting on that familiar summit Last year, aboard Swain in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, Dettori had ridden like a panic-stricken apprentice and probably cost his horse the race. After turning for home four wide, in a drive to overtake 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm, Swain began bearing out under Dettori's repeated lefthanded whipping until the horse was racing near the outside fence. He finished a close third, beaten by a length, and Dettori's critics berated him for not switching his stick to straighten his mount. "Everybody tried to kill me," he says. "I made a mistake. It took me six months to get over it"
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� 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.
Lukas Horses Romp Again
D. Wayne's World
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 VA lengths. After the race one professional handicap-per deadpanned, "I wouldn't have bet Cat Thief with Confederate money?'