Frankie Dettori looked so relieved to be going to work.
After a long journey across the Atlantic and some travel snags after his plane touched down, the internationally successful jockey arrived at Saratoga Race Course on Friday after missing his mounts in the first and second races. He walked into the paddock before the seventh race with his arms spread wide, saying, “I finally made it!”
He also finally got to scratch an item off his bucket list, having never ridden at Saratoga.
“I was in Istanbul Wednesday night, I rode in England [at Doncaster Racecourse] last night, I slept in the airport,” he said after winning the eighth race. “I got a morning flight and arrived at 11, but they lost my luggage.”
He had to borrow equipment from other jockeys in the Saratoga colony. He was wearing a pair of pants from Rajiv Maragh, boots from Joe Rocco and using Julien Leparoux’s whip.
Dettori’s visit to Saratoga came after trainer Wesley Ward heard the rider was missing this stamp on his suitcase. Ward brings horses and jockeys over to England to race, and his jockeys always spoke highly of Dettori and the treatment they received from him.
“They get over there, they’re like a fish out of water. They’re used to turning left their whole lives, and they get over there and there’s straightaways, uphills and downhills,” Ward said. “He’s able to get them aside and talk to them in the jockeys’ room. They always say, ‘We talked to Frankie, and he gave us some insight into the course and what the other guys are going to be doing or thinking.’
“He didn’t have to do that. I had no alliance with the guy and wasn’t even a friend to him until now. Being a competitor against my guys, you’d think he’d be tight-lipped and not want to say anything. But he just seems like a wonderful guy.”
Ward gave Dettori a leg-up onto Tiz Sardonic Joe for the seventh race. He was 7-2 on the morning line, but he threw a shoe just before the horses reached the gate and was scratched as a betting option. He still ran with three shoes for purse money, though, and Dettori guided the 5-year-old son of Tiznow around the mile length of inner turf to finish a close second to Joes Blazing Aaron.
In the eighth race, coincidentally an allowance race called The I Love NY, Dettori guided the French-bred Aventure Love quickly to the front of the field and maintained the lead for all of the 5 1⁄2 furlongs on the Mellon Turf.
“It feels great,” he said of his first win at the track. “To get the first one out of the way, great. It was a great feeling when I crossed the line, you know? I felt like a kid again.”
He got another win for Ward in the 10th, a maiden race over 1 1/16 mile on the Mellon Turf, aboard 3-year-old filly Jet Majesty, finishing the day 2-1-0 from three starts.
Dettori will ride four days here before jetting back to England on Monday night. On today’s card, his featured mount is Stephanie’s Kitten for Mechanicville’s Chad Brown in the Grade I Diana. Ward has provided Dettori a number of mounts for the weekend, but the jockey’s agents were able to fill in some of the blanks in his days with a few more rides.
He also will ride Bessie’s Boy for Ward in the Grade III Sanford. A winner in his first two, Bessie’s Boy is the 5-1 third choice.
Dettori arrived with many feathers already in his cap. To name just a few, he has won each of the British Classics — the 2,000 Guineas Stakes, the 1,000 Guineas Stakes, the Epsom Oaks, Epsom Derby and St. Leger Stakes — as well as the Jebel Ali Spring and Jebel Ali Mile in Dubai and the Japan Cup. In the United States, he has won the Beverly D., and at the Breeders’ Cup (the Classic, Filly & Mare Turf, Juvenile, Juvenile Turf, Mile and Turf).
So he’s been around a bit.
Still, when he got to Saratoga and saw the opening-day crowd of 25,612, he was a little impressed.
“When I arrived, I thought I was in Disney World, so many people,” Dettori said. “I thought maybe I got the wrong venue. It’s nice to see people at the races.”
It turns out, it was very much the right venue. If he has more of this kind of success in his four-day stay at the Spa, he will continue to reward Ward for the invitation. Counting the three mounts Friday, he has 14 lined up for the four days, 10 of those for Ward and four of those on horses also owned by Ward.
For his part, Ward was just glad Dettori got the chance to race here.
“This is one of the things he wanted to do, come to Saratoga,” Ward said. “This is the greatest racing venue in the summer, where all the best jockeys, trainers, owners and horses, foremost, come out. He wanted to get this experience.”