ON the eve of yet another huge day in the spotlight at Royal Ascot, Frankie Dettori received the ultimate compliment on Wednesday from the trainer who last year broke the all-time record for number of British winners.

“No disrespect to Lester Piggott, but isn’t Frankie the greatest jockey?” asked Mark Johnston, leaving no doubt that he believes he is.

Nonsense, I hear you cry. Sacrilege, even. Better than Lester! The legendary rider of 116 winners at Royal Ascot, including 11 Gold Cups. Only last Tuesday, the racecourse unveiled a life-size sculpture of the man.

Dettori, who partners the hot favourite Stradivarius in Thursday Thursday’s Gold Cup, stole the show aboard Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, but it was his earlier victory aboard Johnston’s Raffle Prize in the Queen Mary Stakes that prompted the accolade.

“He was a true professional as a young rider back in 1993. I know he’s a superstar. And on the big day he’s special,” said the always forthright trainer.

It didn’t take long for Dettori to add weight to that Johnston assertion when giving Crystal Ocean a canny, confident ride in atrocious conditions to deny the Ballydoyle favourite Magical in the afternoon’s feature.

“It’s not very pleasant out there, but I stayed out wide for the fresh ground,” reported Dettori. “I kicked on the final turn, he responded well and I got very little kickback because I was in the first two.

“I was worried about the ground, but he’s tough, a heavyweight of the sport. He never runs a bad race.”

This was a breakthrough Group One for Crystal Ocean and nobody could argue he didn’t deserve to score at the top level after hitting the crossbar in three Group Ones.

“If you look at his record, it’s quite amazing,” said Stoute, already the all-time leading trainer at Royal Ascot before this 80th success. “He may be a better horse at a mile and a half, but he proved today that he’s certainly pretty good at a mile and a quarter as well.” |

-Pic: Racing TV.