Frankie Dettori swansong reaches Riyadh for the $20m Saudi Cup

Italian jockey is retiring in November but first has a final shot at the world's richest race on board Country Grammer

Frankie Dettori will take part in the $20m Saudi Cup on Saturday as he heads towards retirement in November. PA
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The Frankie Dettori farewell tour has arrived in Riyadh where the legendary jockey will be seeking to add another glittering career highlight with victory in the world’s most valuable race, the $20 million Saudi Cup on Saturday.

Dettori is riding last year’s runner-up Country Grammer for American trainer Bob Baffert, and don’t put it past the 52-year-old Italian landing the big prize, which would see him pocket at least $2m if he manages to go one better than 12 months ago.

“Country Grammer is very solid and never runs a bad race. Touch wood he doesn't start now,” said Dettori. “He was second last year, is tough and has travelled before, which is a plus. I would be foolish to say that I am confident but I am very pleased to ride him and he will give his best.”

Dettori, still the world’s most high profile rider, flew into Saudi Arabia after a memorable night last Sunday at Santa Anita in California where he rode a 251-1 four timer. It showed he is riding as well as ever which prompted inevitable questions about retirement plans. For now he is due to finish at the Breeders’ Cup in November.

Asked if he thinks that he will change his mind, Dettori replied: “At the moment, the plan is to stop at the end of the season. I am sure I am going to be asked that question a million times before then!

“But this year is my last. I will be 53 in December and I will finish on the top. It's hard to choose the right moment and my heart wants to carry on but I want to have another life after racing.

“I gave myself a year to do my last farewell. I am in Saudi Arabia because I was asked to be here, I'd usually be in Dubai, and after that I will do the European programme. Royal Ascot should be my last meeting in England and then possibly the Breeders' Cup will be my last, or if something in the Melbourne Cup or other things materialise.”

What would his post riding career involve?

“I have my eye on working in the media. That is the route that I am thinking of taking. There are other things, like buying a few horses and becoming a bloodstock agent, things like that, but I will have a couple of months to sit back and look at the whole picture. Not training, no, I wouldn't have the patience.”

Dettori wins the Dubai World Cup

His immediate focus however is on Country Grammer, owned by Saudi businessman Amr Zedan and who is keen to support his country’s biggest race. Zedan also owns Taiba, the likely favourite who Dettori says is a force to be reckoned with. There are also six Japanese entries.

“He has very little mileage on the clock and is a horse who I feel is still improving. He will be thereabouts as well,” Dettori continued.

Baffert has had the Saudi Cup on Country Grammer's agenda for some time. He chose to miss the Breeders’ Cup Classic last November to avoid Flightline, the world’s highest rated racehorse and with the intention of hitting the Middle East high road.

“Country Grammer has been aimed at these two races, the Saudi Cup and then on to Dubai. This was always the plan,” Dettori explained.

Country Grammer, second behind Emblem Road the popular locally trained winner from 12 months ago, went on to win the Dubai World Cup. That is again his target this time around.

Saudi Cup 2022

This will be the fourth running of the Saudi Cup which since its inception has eclipsed if only financially at the moment, other multimillion dollar races such as the Pegasus in America, the Everest in Australia and the Dubai World Cup. The winner will earn $10m alone, which is more than 10 times the prize for landing the Derby at Epsom in England.

“At the time when we were looking at the strategy around the race the Pegaus was $14m, the Everest $13m and the World Cup $12m. The reason the Saudi Cup was set at $20m was to put the issue to bed!” said Tom Ryan, the director strategy and international racing at the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.

“But having said all that, the race has to work and has to be credible. It is now a global Group 1 in terms of rankings. You don’t get that just because you put money in. The quality has to be there.”

He continued: “It only seems like yesterday that we were scrambling to get the first one done. The racing world and the leading stables know about the event now and they know what it takes to win a race were.

“With Country Grammer finishing second last year here and then going on to win the Dubai World Cup proved the concept of a two stop strategy in the region was viable. ”

There’ll be a few more stops yet for Dettori though. The best advice is to catch him while you can.

Updated: February 24, 2023, 5:29 AM