There’s a eureka moment behind every bold experiment –
and for Frankie Dettori and Sheikh Mohammed, that epiphany came at the Curragh.
Dettori wasn’t Frankie in 1994 – reports still called
him Lanfranco and his trademark flying dismount had yet to be patented.
Now, Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation is one of
the most powerful in world racing but back then, those stories of win after win
in famous dark blue silks were all still waiting to be written.
The idea of horses wintering in the sunshine of the
Middle East before returning to Europe to take on racing’s biggest prizes was
still in its infancy.
But proof the experiment could deliver rich rewards
started with a lithe filly named Balanchine.
Dettori had partnered the horse to victory in the Oaks
at Epsom, Godolphin’s first Classic success.
And some thought trainer Hilal Ibrahim mad when she
was not then aimed at the Irish Oaks but a crack at the boys in the Irish
Derby, with Dettori, just 23, admitting his surprise.
“I was over the moon after I’d won my first Classic on
her at Epsom and I though the next step would be the Irish Oaks,” recalls
Dettori, in an exclusive interview with Go Racing.
“But Sheikh Maktoum and Sheikh Mohammed were never short
of a challenge and they decided to race against the colts in the Irish Derby. I
thought: ‘God, this maybe a step too far’. Obviously, I was proven wrong
because she won.
“I think there were maybe eight or ten runners and I
remember I had a decent spot, maybe fourth, and as we got to the top of the
hill, she really picked the bridle up and wanted to go.
“I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I just let her
run. I remember I took it up just before the straight and I knew she stayed
really well and I set sail for home, basically.
“It was a lonely place, the last two furlongs. I
thought: ‘well, maybe someone is going to come and grab me’ but she was
brilliant that day – she absolutely galloped right to the line.
“I had a little look behind and I was quite well
clear. It was my only Irish Derby win and I was only 23, so I was ecstatic and
delighted, and it was a massive feat for a filly. She was a one-off.
“It’s a massive big feat for a filly to beat the colts
and we were all ecstatic. It was an historic moment for us and I know
much water has gone under the bridge since then but it was a magic day for me.
“I mean, it was a bold call to make a run against the
colts and that was, I guess, the steppingstone for what Godolphin is now – the
operation expanding and expanded to what we have now. She was the start.”
While Balanchine remains Dettori’s only Irish Derby
success, the Curragh has proved a happy hunting ground, with four victories in
the Irish Oaks, including partnering Enable to glory in 2017.
The Irish 1000 Guineas is the only Classic missing
from his collection but six Irish Champion Stakes, from Swain in 1998 to Golden
Horn in 2015, underline his love of the track.
A love reciprocated from racing’s most knowledgeable
“It is a very fair and wonderful track – it’s one of
the best in the world,” added the 48-year-old.
“I’m probably more famous in Ireland than I am in
England. You can walk up to anybody in the street and everyone knows about
racing, racing is in their blood.
“It’s the headquarters of Irish racing and hats off to
them for how they’ve developed the paddock and grandstand. It’s good that they
have tried to attract some young people to racing and they can enjoy a great
“Some great champions are going to kiss that turf.”
Join us at The Curragh this weekend for an unmissable event #DDFRacing
Get your Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Festival tickets here https://bit.ly/2RkdSoU