Frankie Dettori Looks Back on a Magic Moment at the Curragh

His 1994 Irish Derby win aboard Balanchine

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Frankie Dettori's 1994 Irish Derby win aboard Balanchine

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 fans. 

“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 day out.  

“Some great champions are going to kiss that turf.”

Join us at The Curragh this weekend for an unmissable event #DDFRacing
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It is a very fair and wonderful track – it’s one of the best in the world 

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