Dettori lights up the Valley once again
The world's most charismatic jockey, Frankie Dettori, gave the big crowd a double helping of what it came for at Happy Valley last night as he grinned and star-jumped his way to a third Cathay Pacific International Jockeys' Championship.
The fans cheered Dettori's renowned showmanship as he didn't let anyone down with flying dismounts from Class Four battler Travel Guide and the last-leg winner, Regency Winner, who sealed victory for the Italian eight days out from his 41st birthday.
Dettori had won the Championship before, in 1999 and 2001, but he only made the field this time when American Corey Nakatani pulled out and had been oddly absent from the competition for the past eight years.
'You know, I have five children, and they have been in turns each year doing a school nativity play at this time of year,' he said. 'And my wife has been very firm with me that I had to be there for them. So I have been there instead of here, but now that Rocco, my youngest, has grown past that age, I asked her if maybe I could come back.'
Asked if he would be back to defend his title in 2012, Dettori seemed more than positive. 'When I show my wife the cheque I just got, I think I'll be able to convince her,' he grinned.
On a night when the dogs were barking an on-speed bias to the track after the opening two races, Dettori went to school on that himself, and had no hesitation taking Travel Guide to the lead in the opening leg of the series and that was the last the other runners saw of the pair.
'I didn't know much about his form - when you come from other countries, the form doesn't mean anything to you. But he got the lead and he got breathing in a nice rhythm and nobody came near me,' he said. 'So I let him go on the turn and away he went.'
Dettori missed in the second series race then picked up minor points on Ambitious Treasure in the third leg, before putting the title to bed by coming from off the pace to win the final leg on Tony Cruz-trained Regency Winner.
'Tony gave me a lot of confidence in the horse before the race, even though he races back and needs some luck but every time I went for a gap, the gaps opened,' Dettori said. 'This is Happy Valley and I've been here before - you need that kind of luck but I had plenty of horse and that helped.'
Cruz said he ignored the trend of the night's racing and just asked the Italian great to ride the horse 'the way the horse needs to be ridden'.
'He did it perfectly. Exactly as I asked him,' he said. 'I didn't want to change the tactics just because the track might have been playing a certain way - I wanted him to ride Regency Winner the way that has been working for him lately and that was the most important thing to me.'
New Zealand teenager, James McDonald finished second after setting himself as a chance by finishing second to Dettori in the opening leg and then scoring his first win in Hong Kong on John Moore-trained Sunny More in the second.
'He gave that a great ride. We thought he might be able to go out and dictate the lead but what I liked was how young James adapted when things didn't work out that way,' Moore said.
'The pace was a bit stiffer than we expected early so he showed nouse by dropping behind them and then he got the horse stoked up early and out after them.'
Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges declared the night 'the best Jockey Championship we have had'.
'The crowd was big, the atmosphere was the best I can remember and having Frankie win it is always a great thing,' he said. 'A lot of the fans backed Frankie in the Jockey Championship betting, just because he's Frankie, so we might have had a little loss there but I think we can chalk that up as a great promotional expense.'