On a very blustery evening, we made our way through coastal gales to the Floral Pavilion to experience an evening with Frankie Dettori MBE, the renowned champion jockey with the engaging personality that endears him to racing fans and ordinary members of the public alike.
The signs were good, with a fair-sized audience for the main auditorium of mixed ages including a few children, but mainly male.
Peter Burrell was the interviewer. A businessman with a passion for racing, he has worked with Frankie Dettori since Frankie was a teenager and is now his manager. The set was just the two of them on the stage.: two chairs, a small table, and a bottle of wine. The interview started well, with Frankie telling the audience how he came to England.
The son of the famous Italian jockey Gianfranco Dettori who was a champion jockey in his native Italy on thirteen occasions, Frankie started his riding career in the 80s as a teenager, and was attached to fellow Italian Luca Cumani, a trainer at Newmarket’s Bedford Lodge Stables. In 1990, he became the first teenager since Lester Piggott to ride 100 winners in a British season. He told us how his mother was a circus performer, riding horses whilst standing up and performing acrobatics, and he wondered if that was where his wilder side orginated from!
He has been so successful, winning each of the seven races on Champions’ Day at Ascot in 1996, and winning over 3,000 British races, including 17 British Classics (three 2000 Guineas, three 1000 Guineas, four Oaks, two Derbys and five St Legers). After winning the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe on the filly Enable, he became the winning-most jockey of the Arc with a record five victories.
However, Dettori has had his downs as well as ups. He was nearly killed in a freak plane crash at Newmarket in 2000, and he told us how he was lucky to be kicked and dragged from the wreckage of the plane by fellow passenger and champion jockey Ray Cochrane, who suffered burns. The pilot sadly died. Dettori had a fractured ankle amongst other injuries, which he had to recover from before returning to racing. There was also a six-month ban from racing in 2012 after failing a drugs test and subsequently losing his position with Godolphin Racing, which was not mentioned as he was hastily interrupted at one point, but hey ho.
He told us of his numerous meetings with the Queen, and gave us a brief insight into that side of the world of a successful jockey, but mainly it was about the different horses and relationships with trainers and owners through the years.
Fifteen minutes from the end of the first half, Burrell invited Franny Norton to join Frankie on the stage as a special guest. Norton is the jockey who sits next to Frankie in the changing room, and he has a cult following at the local Chester Racecourse, which he rides without peer, though it took him until May to win a coveted first Chester Cup.
Aged 49, Norton is the same age as Dettori. A former boxer, he was popular with certain members of the audience, who showed their appreciation when he came on stage. Undoubtedly, he is an interesting guy, and he and Dettori have a good relationship, but to be honest, that quarter-hour of the first half would have been enough of him on stage. He tended to take over the conversation, and Burrell appeared to encourage this and drew him into every aspect of the conversation. There was an unnecessary amount of foul language; bear in mind that this wasn’t a “gentlemans’ evening”, it was a theatre on a Monday night with children in the audience. Dropping the “C-bomb” was well over the top. As we went to the interval, the audience were encouraged to write questions and submit them for Frankie to answer in the second half, which we duly did.
We assembled back in the auditorium for the second half, and to my honest disappointment, Norton was invited back onto the stage. I have no idea why, as this was to be an evening with Frankie Dettori, not Franny Norton. The audience questions were read out, and Burrell directed them to both Frankie and Franny, but I reckon the majority were answered by Franny as Frankie sat silent, smiling or chipped in. He mentioned that he had been told to avoid swearing in the interval, and there was a minor reduction. I’m assuming he was there because the theatre was in Merseyside.
Though it started well, I felt disappointed overall with An Evening With Frankie Dettori. Most of the information we heard could have been found via an internet search engine, and I wanted to know more, about his life, his family and personal experiences, but obviously that wasn’t the plan, partly due to the involvement of Norton.