Author: Howard Wright

Every language seems to have a saying that translates as ‘time is a great healer’ but it was the 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who first came up with the thought when he wrote ‘Time is the great physician’. The man, who in his book about the great horse racing reformer Lord George Bentinck, also coined the phrase ‘the blue ribbon of the turf’, which later morphed into the Blue Riband, could have been talking about Royal Ascot 2019. Five days of fabulous competition produced a string of good stories and a clutch of headline personalities, none of whom shone more brightly than Frankie Dettori and Hayley Turner. For both it was a case of bridging the gaps.

At the age of 36, Turner stands head and shoulders above all other British female jockeys for success and public appreciation. Yet, having overcome serious injuries from race riding falls that curtailed her seasons in 2009 and 2011, her career went into reverse gear in 2014 and 2015. The spark that typified her public persona seemed to have gone out, and at the end of 2015 she announced her retirement to pursue a second career in the broadcast media with satellite channel At The Races. For someone who measures every word when approached by journalists, she did not always appear wholly comfortable being thrust into the role of pundit, commenting on people who only recently had been employers or colleagues, yet it still came as a bolt out of the blue when, within seven months of stepping in front of the cameras, she was back in the saddle, being drafted into one of the Shergar Cup teams.

Since then Turner’s retirement has taken on several guises, including joining the ITV Racing squad, renewing her licence in order to ride in other invitational events, being banned for three months for having a betting account while holding a jockey’s licence, and riding in France in 2017 to take advantage of the somewhat controversial decision by the authorities there to introduce a significant allowance for female jockeys, however many winners they had ridden. Turner’s experience in Chantilly was fairly short lived and last year she was back in Newmarket, taking 375 rides in Britain for 45 winners and prize money earnings of nearly £590,000, the fifth best in the 20 seasons since she rode her first winner.

With her work life balance seemingly sorted to her satisfaction and contacts renewed, including a winter riding out and occasionally riding in public in Dubai for Saeed bin Suroor, Turner has settled into a less frantic working schedule. Her confidence level in the saddle, which from this side of the rails seemed to have dipped a couple of years ago, is back at a peak, as she proved on the big stage at Royal Ascot, where she became only the second winning female jockey in history. The gap she bridged there on Thanks Be in Friday’s Sandringham Handicap was not only the one representing her own absence from the roll of honour in major races but the 32 years since Gay Kelleway broke the mould for her sex at the royal meeting by landing the Queen Alexandra Stakes on Sprowston Boy.

That day’s website and TV news programme headlines, and those in the following day’s newspapers, were dominated by Turner, such was the level of interest in her achievement. They overshadowed even Frankie Dettori’s exploits, which was some feat, given that on the day of Turner’s success he rode his seventh winner at the meeting on Advertise for the Dubai-based Phoenix Thoroughbreds operation.

The twists and turns, ups and downs in Dettori’s career do not need repeating here, but the renaissance of his riding exploits remains a feature of the last five seasons, culminating in his first Royal Ascot jockeys’ title since 2004, the year of Doyen, Duke Of Venice, Papineau, Punctilious, Kheyleyf and Refuse To Bend, all trained by Saeed bin Suroor. The intervening 14 years have been full of change for Dettori, none more seismic than his split from Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation at the end of 2012. The cracks had begun to appear early in the year, when Mickael Barzalona, 20 years Dettori’s junior, joined the Godolphin squad, and they widened further when Silverstre de Sousa started to take more rides for the team.

The point of no return appeared to have been reached in October, when Dettori rode Camelot for the Coolmore partners in the Arc de Triomphe. It was Dettori’s first ride for the Irish equine juggernaut for seven years, since he first ruffled feathers in the Godolphin camp by winning the 2005 St Leger for them on Scorpion. Camelot, who would have gone to Paris as a Triple Crown winner but for an injudicious ride by Joseph O’Brien at Doncaster, started favourite for the Arc but finished a miserable seventh as Solemia slogged home in heavy ground to head Japan’s Orfevre in the shadow of the post, with Godolphin’s Masterstroke, ridden by Barzalona, a distant third. A few days earlier, Dettori had, perhaps appropriately, won the Godolphin Stakes at Newmarket on Retrieve, trained by Saeed bin Suroor.

It was to prove the last time Dettori rode a big race winner for Godolphin, to go with the last Group One winner, Colour Vision, in that year’s Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. Wind the clock forward seven years, and Dettori was back in the winner’s enclosure after the Gold Cup, victorious for the second year in a row on Stradivarius, whose trainer John Gosden, while emerging as a major cog in the Godolphin wheel since the departure of John Ferguson, has helped to steer Dettori’s career to the very top again. As well as Stradivarius, Gosden gave Dettori a Royal Ascot winner with Star Catcher in the Ribblesdale Stakes, but two other successful rides illustrated that this was a meeting where time and the physician really did come together to lift the mood of the effervescent Italian.

The first of Dettori’s seven winners, and a first of its kind, was Raffle Prize, trained by Mark Johnston and successful in the Queen Mary Stakes in the colours of Sheikh Hamdan, son of Sheikh Mohammed. The ‘old firm’ greeted each other in the winner’s enclosure, and the years seemed to slip away to the good old days. The following day Dettori started a four timer that would equal Lester Piggott’s 1965 achievement in a single Royal Ascot day by winning the Norfolk Stakes on A’Ali, the second winner at the meeting as a fully fledged trainer for Simon Crisford but the first in the hands of the man who guided so many Godolphin winners when he was managing its racing affairs. Observers of the two reunions could not fail to have spotted their significance. With a little help from Raffle Prize and A’Ali, time really has proved to be a great healer.

Howard Wright

Ascot bridges gaps for Dettori and Turner