Frankie Dettori recalls his ride on Fantastic Light at last year’s Irish Champion Stakes
Fantastic Light was a wonderful horse to ride and the great thing about him was that he got better and better and better. It is very unusual to have a horse with his talent which just keeps on improving with age. He is the sort of horse all jockeys dream about; very rarely in your life do you ride one like him.
In the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Belmont last October, I don’t think I have ever been on a horse travelling so well over a mile and a half. He never looked like getting beaten.
After losing the King George at Ascot during the summer, I knew Fantastic Light could take his revenge on Galileo in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. My horse had developed since Ascot and, with the help of a pacemaker, I could sit in behind Galileo and beat him for turn of foot.
Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Maktoum [Fantastic Light’s owners] sat me down between them the night before the race and told me I must be in front of Galileo at all costs. I tried to argue my case, saying that we’d set up the race for Galileo, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. So I said: “You’re the bosses, and I’ll do whatever you want me to.”
Richard [Hills] rode the pacemaker, Give The Slip. I was going well but suddenly the gap on the rails didn’t look quite big enough, so I thought I’d go round Give The Slip. But then it opened and I shot up the inside as planned.
Then I thought to myself, it’s going to be a long way home because Fantastic Light will think the race is over. Galileo hooked on to me two furlongs out and from there the gloves were off.
When he got to within a head of me I thought he would blow past us, but Fantastic Light wasn’t giving in. He got the message and really took up the challenge as Galileo failed to go by.
Fantastic Light kept sticking his neck out, and by doing that he broke Galileo’s heart. In fact, Galileo never really recovered from such a hard battle.
In my whole life, that was the best race I have ridden in. For sheer determination, as a spectacle and also as a contest between two world-class champions – a proper horserace.
We returned to such a joyous atmosphere. There were 30,000 Irish people rooting for their local hero, Galileo; we had just taken their best race and beaten their best horse. But they still cheered us. That says something for the race and about racing.
Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (10 October) where team chase rider Debbie Topping talks about her ‘ride of a lifetime’ at Badsworth open team chase on Junior.
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