Frankie Dettori, the most successful current jockey at Royal Ascot with 56 winners, talked about how special Royal Ascot is to him.
He said: “It was a year ago today that I broke my shoulder and it was awful. To me, Ascot is everything and to injure myself four days' before it last year's Royal Ascot was very hard to take.
“At the moment, I am covering myself up in bubble wrap and hope I can get there on Tuesday! I have three rides before then – two on Saturday and one on Sunday.
“Royal Ascot is the pinnacle for me – it is our Olympics. The Derby at Epsom is just one race, but there are 30 races at Royal Ascot over the five days, with distances from five furlongs to two miles and six. It covers all spectrums of horses and there are international challengers now of course.
“Races are hard to win and the meeting is extremely important for both the industry and the audience. It' is everything, basically.”
The Italian jockey has an enviable book of rides which is headed by the John Gosden-trained Cracksman, who returns to Ascot following a devastating seven-length success there in the QIPCO Champion Stakes in October, which resulted in the colt being the highest-rated three-year-old in the world with a rating of 130 in 2017.
The son of Frankel is unbeaten in two starts this year, landing the G1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp in April before prevailing by a head in the 12-furlong Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom Downs on June 1 despite not handling the undulations of the track and hitting his head in the stalls.
Cracksman is a warm order for the £750,00 Prince of Wales's Stakes (G1, 10f, Wednesday, June 20) at Royal Ascot and Dettori said: “Cracksman is fine. I rode him yesterday and he is good.
“He doesn't like Epsom and struggles to run downhill. He likes Ascot and I hope the same beast turns up that won the Champion Stakes and then we would have some fun.
“His CV is tremendous and you don't get rated 130 unless you prove it – I'm excited to see him on Wednesday.”
Dettori also partners the exciting Without Parole, also trained by Gosden, in the G1 St James's Palace Stakes (1m rnd, Tuesday, June 19), with the son of Frankel unbeaten in three starts, the latest of which was a three-quarter length success in the Listed Heron Stakes over a mile at Sandown on May 24.
Dettori is hopeful of a big performance from the three-year-old, who tackles Group company for the first time in the mile contest on Tuesday. He is owned by John Gunther, who bred him, and his daughter Tanya Gunther, who have enjoyed big-race success in recent days having bred the 13th American Triple Crown hero in history, the Bob Baffert-trained Justify.
He said: “Without Parole went into the race at Sandown following a short lay-off after a bruised foot and he was a little bit rusty that day. Looking at the entries, it looks an excellent St James's Palace with Romanised, U S Navy Flag, Wootton and others. He will have to step up, but he is a Frankel colt and he is very exciting.
“John Gunther came over for Without Parole's Sandown win and he was a nervous wreck ahead of that race. That run was also in between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes so I can't imagine what he was like on Saturday!
“I will also be riding for Wesley Ward. I will ride one for him in the Queen Mary and I will also ride the old boy Undrafted. I won the Diamond Jubilee on Undrafted in 2015 and this year he runs in the Wokingham – if he just has half the ability he used to have, he should run a big race.
“Wesley only has two words for me when I ride for him – hold on. That is how fast his horses are from the gate. His record at Ascot is amazing.
“Stradivarius (John Gosden) goes for the Gold Cup. He is a bonny little horse and likes fast ground. The Gold Cup is unique as it is two and a half miles. We know Stradivarius stays two miles, but another half a mile is a long way. Order Of St George is a great champion and is going to be a tough nut to crack.
“John Gosden will have a big team. We are all thinking we have a great book of rides, but it is very hard to win at Ascot and you can't take anything for granted. I am very excited and am going to enjoy it.”
All of the G1 race at Royal Ascot – the Queen Anne Stakes, the King's Stand Stakes, the St James's Palace Stakes, the Prince of Wales's Stakes, the Gold Cup, the Commonwealth Cup, the Coronation Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes – are part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.
Australian superstar Redkirk Warrior is the latest horse from Down Under to contest one of the G1 sprints at Royal Ascot and is another that Dettori will partner.
The seven-year-old son of Notnowcato began his career with trainer William Haggas in Britain, winning both of his starts as a three-year-old for the Newmarket handler over 10 furlongs, with the second success coming in an Ascot handicap.
He was then sold to race in Hong Kong, but after five runs the chestnut gelding was retired due to foot problems. The owners sent him to David Hayes' Lindsay Park Racing Stables in Victoria, Australia to see if his racing career could be revived and, after extensive treatment to his feet, Redkirk Warrior has found a new lease of life.
He has been in stellar form of late, capturing the G1 Black Caviar Lightning (5f) and the G1 Lexus Newmarket Handicap (6f) at Flemington on his two most recent starts.
Redkirk Warrior will bid to emulate Black Caviar, who was the last Australian sprinter to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2012. The 2018 renewal of the six-furlong race, worth £600,000, is on Saturday, June 23 – the fifth and final day of Royal Ascot.
Ben Hayes, joint-trainer along with his father David and cousin Tom Dabernig of 180 horses, said today: “We've been really happy with Redkirk Warrior since he arrived in Britain. He's settled in well and taken everything in his stride – he's in good order.
“He was originally from England and he has done plenty of travelling, having raced here, Hong Kong and Australia, so he seems to take his travelling really well.
“It's an advantage that he has raced on the track before as we know he's handles it. Whilst that was a long time ago, it's good that he has a past experience of Ascot.
“I definitely think he has the credentials to win. If you win both a Newmarket and a Lightning, that is pretty good form which entitles you to have a really good chance at Ascot.
“Most of the Australian sprinters who have come over here have won at least one of those races, so we know that the form stacks up and we hope he has a great chance in the Diamond Jubilee. Australian sprinters who have come to Ascot in the past have at the very least run competitively, so hopefully he handles everything on the day as he has the ability to win.
“Merchant Navy [third to Redkirk Warrior in the Newmarket Handicap] is a good horse, but we were giving him five and a half kilos when we beat him last time. We led that day and were on inferior ground, so we had factors which were against us.
“They were split across the track in that race but, in the Diamond Jubilee, they will meet off level weights so there is a big weight turnaround. Our lad has got loads of ability so he has a great chance in the race.
“Redkirk Warrior is coming off two G1 wins and he is excellent on straight courses. He has won four of his races on straight courses and he has great credentials.
“Coming to Royal Ascot with him has always been in the back of our minds, but not necessarily a plan. When he won in the Newmarket off top-weight, the Diamond Jubilee became on option for us and one in which we could freshen him up and bring him over, so it appealed to us.
“He is a horse who goes really well fresh and, looking at his record, he seems to relish slight gaps in between his races.
“Merchant Navy winning in Ireland at the Curragh on his first start for Aidan O'Brien gave us a lot of confidence. He is a very good horse in Australia and for him to come over here on his first run and win giving weight awaywas impressive and gave our form a real boost. He was up against well credentialed horses – it was a very good win.
“You don't usually have a form line to follow when you run in these big European races as it's hard to compare the Australian and European form usually, but the fact that Merchant Navy has come over to Europe and already won gives the Newmarket win a strong form boost.”
Dettori is going for a third success in the Diamond Jubilee on Redkirk Warrior, having previously landed the six-furlong highlight on So Factual (1995) and Undrafted (2015).
Discussing the Australian sprinter's chances, he continued: “I was delighted when David Hayes booked me and Redkirk Warrior's form is good. He likes to go straight and handles fast ground very well so he is a great ride.
“He is up against some top-class British sprinters including Harry Angel, but Black Caviar, Choisir and Takeover Target have all shown how good the Australian sprinters are in these sprint races at Royal Ascot – I wouldn't swap him for anything else.”
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