SO – if you could have been any sportsman or sportswoman in 2019 – who would it have been?, asks DAVID MOLLETT.
The list is a long one. It would include Lewis Hamilton, Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi, footballers Mo Salah, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and female jockey, Hayley Turner, who made racing history at Royal Ascot.
If he’s seen the pic of Ronaldo’s girlfriend in a swimming pool on social media (which I’m sure he has!), I’m convinced Turf Talk editor, Charl Pretorius, would vote for the famous footballer. However, my personal choice would be narrowed down to just two guys at the top of their profession, Frankie Dettori and cricketer Ben Stokes.
A friend of mine was at Headingley in Leeds to witness Stokes’ heroic knock of 135 which secured England a sensational win in the Cricket World Cup.
We “Poms” were hoping for an “action replay” at Centurion last Sunday, but it didn’t happen.
“Ben’s knock was like something you only expect in childrens’ comics – I’ll be telling my grand-kids about it for years,” my friend said.
Interestingly, both Stokes and Dettori have had to overcome major problems to get their careers back on track – Stokes had a much-publicised court case following an incident of assault while – following a drug test in France seven years ago – Dettori was banned for six months.
Born in Milan in 1970, Dettori celebrated his 49th birthday two weeks ago and has stated he has no intention of hanging up his saddle. Why would he? His net worth is estimated at 14 million pounds and this year he’s earned over two million pounds in prizemoney.
He can point out that Lester Piggott rode a Gr 1 winner at the age of 56 and famous footballer, Stanley Matthews, was still playing in his fifties.
To say that Dettori has come a long way since riding his first winner in June 1987 is an understatement. He’s racing’s pin-up boy and – similar to Stokes’ innings being a highlight – his tally of seven winners at Ascot in September 1996 is still regarded as one of the best days of an outstanding career.
As I found out after spending three days with Dettori and his wife, Catherine, at Mala Mala four years ago, there’s a naughty side to the Italian and his love of French champagne is well known.
After winning the St James Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2018, Dettori kissed the hand of Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle. It prompted a few frowns from the older royalty present, but it was just another situation – similar to his flying leaps – of “Frankie” expressing his vibrant character.
In 2019, journos have had reams of copy as a result of Dettori’s exploits – mainly as a result of his association with John Gosden’s champion filly, Enable.
When it was announced Enable would remain in training in 2020, Dettori said: “She is the world’s favourite horse. To have one more year with my special girl is amazing. I’m absolutely buzzing about it.”
Amazing isn’t a strong enough word to describe Enable’s win in the Gr 1 King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot at the end of July.
It was – in my book – the best race of the year in which Enable, after racing wide, got a neck verdict over Crystal Ocean with subsequent Arc victor, Waldegeist, finishing third.
That was Enable’s second King George triumph and Gosden and Dettori will be hoping the superstar filly came upstage Dahlia and Swain who both won the prestigious Ascot race twice.
After that success, the big question on the lips of racing fans was whether Enable could win the Arc De Triomphe in Paris for a record third time.
It wasn’t to be. Sent off 4-6 favourite, Enable was decisively outpointed by Andre Fabre’s runner, Waldegeist. After the race, Dettori commented: “I waited till the 300m pole but she didn’t find as much as I thought. The winner was too good for me today.”
There followed another disappointment in the Melbourne Cup a month later when Dettori picked up a second ban in Australia’s most famous race. He would dearly love to put the marathon Flemington race on his winners CV before he retires.
Yes, as he cracks open the champagne on New Year’s Eve, Frankie Dettori can only pray 2020 proves as successful as the last 12 months. He will be 50 next December, but it would be unwise to believe he can’t compete at the highest level for another five years.
Photo: Getty Images.