Comeback kid Dettori rides into awards reckoning

Derby delight: Frankie Dettori acclaims the convincing Epsom win for Golden Horn
Derby delight: Frankie Dettori acclaims the convincing Epsom win for Golden Horn

RANDALL NORTHAM will never win a champion tipster competition. But this year, he’s staking his money on a top jockey to be the SJA’s Sportsman of the Year

Is there anything better than watching a veteran sportsman or woman making a comeback at the top level? I’ll answer my own question. No, there isn’t.

Whether it’s the late Brian Close returning aged 45 to face Michael Holding in 1976 or Jack Nicklaus a year older when winning the Masters 10 years later.

So it is with Frankie Dettori, who cloaked his year in glory at the age of 45 to take the Derby, the Eclipse, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Golden Horn.

Dettori’s career looked to be on the skids three years ago when he received a six-month ban for ingesting a prohibited substance, believed to be cocaine. He also split from Godolphin in 2012 after 18 years and when he returned to the saddle, it was in that potentially precarious position of a freelance. The downward spiral was further evidenced when he decided to join the TV reality show Celebrity Big Brother; his future career would surely be as a TV “personality”.

But in June 2013 he became the retained rider for Sheikh Joaan Al Than, while being allowed to ride for other owners.

Of course, jockeys aren’t effective without top horses and trainers, and Golden Horn and John Gosden were the horse and man who helped Dettori to his fabulous season.

The first race this year was the Feilden Stakes over nine furlongs on the Rowley Mile course at Newmarket in April, but it was at York a month later that the horse showed what a star he was going to be. Only on that occasion – the day after the SJA’s Race Day – Golden Horn wasn’t ridden by Dettori.

Talking horse: Dettori's comeback, at 45 years old, is one of the great sporting fairy tales
Talking horse: Dettori’s comeback, at 45 years old, is one of the great sporting fairy tales

For the Dante Stakes, Dettori was on board the favourite Jack Hobbs, while William Buick took the ride on Golden Horn, and won by nearly three lengths. Jack Hobbs is a good horse and this race emphasised the pedigree of the winner, as well as making my wallet a little thinner.

The talk was now all about the Derby a few weeks later, but Golden Horn had not been entered because the colt’s owner, Anthony Oppenheimer, didn’t believe it would stay a mile and a half. Oppenheimer was initially reluctant to pay the supplementary fee, for a late entry, of £75,000. Gosden persuaded him to change his mind and engaged Dettori to ride him.

The reason for the jockey change was because after the Dante, Godolphin bought into Jack Hobbs and Buick was Godolphin’s jockey, so he had to ride him. It was a sweet turn of fortune for Dettori.

Starting the Epsom classic as 13-8 favourite, there was never any doubt Golden Horn would give Dettori his second Derby success.

The next big prize was the Eclipse, when at Sandown the three-year-old faced older horses for the first time. It looked as if the 2014 Dante winner, The Grey Gatsby, would give his younger rival a tough race but Golden Horn accelerated away to win by three and a half lengths.

Not everything went smoothly this year. The horse missed the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot because of concerns over the going, and when he did race on rain-softened ground in the Judmonte at the Ebor meeting, it was the 50-1 outsider Arabian Queen who held off all the better-backed horses. Of which Golden Horn proved to be the gamest in the less-helpful conditions.

The race was disappointing for me too as well as for jockey, trainer and owner. I live half a mile or so from the racecourse and became a member as soon as I moved to York in 2013. I go to all 18 days racing each year. The evening before the first day of the Ebor, members are invited to a party at which they are given tips. But it was raining and I didn’t bother, which meant I missed chief executive William Derby tell the members who did turn up that David Ellsworth was very bullish about Arabian Queen.

Now I know all trainers can get excited before big races but that’s the sort of information on which I bet, not having the energy to follow form or work out bloodlines, going etc. So I missed out, but our local bookies took a mighty hit as York members placed their £20 each way bets.

Golden Horn was back in front in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on September 12 which set him up for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp last month. Even I, enthusiast rather than expert, appreciated Dettori’s ride that day. Drawn in stall 14, Dettori sent Golden Horn wide, racing alone before moving back in to track the pacemaker and sweeping home to win by two lengths. It was masterly.

The final race of the season was the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in Kentucky, with Golden Horn set to become the first horse to win Derby, Arc and Breeders Cup in the same season. But although he started 4-1 favourite he was beaten into second place by Ryan Moore on O’Brien’s Found, undone by soft going.

It is a record, though, that I say makes Dettori a justifiable candidate to become our Sportsman of the Year. If he isn’t exactly grizzled, he’s certainly a veteran.

And if the SJA’S ethics committee decide that Italian-born Dettori is ineligible for the prize, then I put forward Golden Horn. He was born here.

  • Randall Northam is a former sports writer with the Express, who now runs SportsBooks Ltd, and is a member of the SJA committee

Other contenders for the SJA’s British Sports Awards, for Team of the Year, Sportswoman and Sportsman include:

  • Who do you think deserves SJA members’ votes for Sportsman, Sportswoman or Team of the Year? Send your pitch – no more than 400 words – to, with “SJA Sports Awards” in the subject field, and we may publish it here
  • The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
  • This year, the SJA’s nominated good cause is The Journalists’ Charity. To find out more and how you can donate on a one-off or regular basis, go to


Tue Dec 1: Young sports journalists’ networking drinks – Details to be announced

Thu Dec 17: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery


Mon Feb 22: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards dinner, sponsored by BT Sport