Frankie Dettori fell into the Ascot trap of not keeping things simple

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Thirty-nine years ago, Willie Carson came to our school to speak at the Equestrian Society. And he was asked, “What makes a top jockey?”

His answer was simple: “The best jockeys are the ones who make the fewest mistakes.”

Obviously being a great jockey is so much more than that, but talking to Steve Cauthen and watching Frankie Dettori endure a torrid time, reminded me of what a fiendishly difficult course the round track at Ascot is to Browse.

Cauthen was famous for having a shiny clock in his head. He knew exactly how fast he was going, so he could launch a search gallop and yet bring his mount to the line just before the gas ran out. And that allowed him to “keep it simple”.

Dettori was considered by trainer John Gosden to have “complicated him too much” in the Ascot Gold Cup when he was beaten by old Stradivarius. And that was a fair review. On tracks with a longer straight, Dettori may have got away with losing position midway through the race. But Ascot punishes jockeys who end up too far back as they climb the hill from Swinley Bottom when the pace is steady.

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The Gold Cup turned into a ‘sprint’ down the relatively short straight and Stradivarius’ old legs couldn’t accelerate as well as the youngsters in front of him. He also had a wall of horses in his path.

Dettori will have known he was in trouble half a mile from the line. With a runner as good as Ryan Moore aboard Kyprios on the outside, keeping his opponents stuck against the rail, Dettori was in a trap and there was no escape. It’s good racing. In fact, Moore rode brilliantly all week. And he showed how cool he was after Wokingham on Saturday when he said he hoped the split didn’t open too soon for his mount, Rohaan.

Moore never raised his stick as he steered Rohaan through a last-second gap and smirked so cheekily as he stopped, as if to say, “I was never going to get beaten, even if I left it late.”

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Dettori’s week has been a nightmare compared to Moore’s, but the class is permanent and the Italian didn’t panic when Inspiral fell asleep on him in the opening stages of the Coronation Stakes on Friday. It was Group 1 redemption for his rider.

Although jockeys are not allowed to ride dangerously and cut others, they are allowed to “close the door” to them by blocking the quickest way home.

Former top jockey Johnny Murtagh was refreshingly candid about the failure of Pat Dobbs aboard Lusail to close the door on winner Coroebus and William Buick in Tuesday’s St James’s Palace Stakes.

To Dobbs’ relief, he needed to know he had clear water between his mount and Coroebus, who was riding the rail, before he could move and block his course. And at the speed at which they travel, that’s not always possible.
However, it would be a mistake to think that a jockey whose mount finishes quickly but does not reach the front line has had a bad race.

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Jamie Spencer gave Artorius a peach of a ride in the Platinum Jubilee Stakes on Saturday. Held to the rear, as the horse likes to be, Spencer made her way across the field but found the two Godolphin horses too good. He undoubtedly extracted every ounce of ability from the horse, but like Moore on Rohaan, he knew getting there too soon would not result in victory. It’s racing.

higher ground

It is the runners from Australia, Japan and the United States that give the crowds at Royal Ascot such a unique thrill. And the connections wouldn’t travel such great distances to them if they didn’t have complete confidence in the running surface.

This year race director Chris Stickels had the track in perfect condition. There was no track bias in the wide straight, which is a great feat considering you had to water every night with 4-7mm to counter “evapotranspiration”.

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