Frankie Dettori: ‘Hearing the crowd shout my name is a very selfish buzz, but God I love it’
I’ve been very lucky with my genes. My mum worked in a circus. She was a contortionist and a trapeze artist, so I got my flexibility from her. The love for the horses I got from my old man.
When I started as a young boy, I was happy to be a middle-of-the-road jockey. Then I started winning and I thought, “Actually, I’m quite good at this.” The more I won, the more I wanted to win, and the rest slid out of my control. I never set out to be this good. Never in a million years did I think I’d get this far.
I have to train twice, three, 10 times harder now than I did before. I’m 51 and I’m competing with people in their 20s and 30s. If I said I’m fitter now than I was when I was 30, I’d be lying.
Riding seven winners in three and a half hours on 28 September 1996 changed my life. From about race four I wasn’t really there – I was just in an adrenaline trance. I didn’t really comprehend what had happened until the next day, when I was splashed all over the newspapers. Even now I get people coming up to me who bet on me to win all seven races. “Thank you Frankie,” they say, “you paid off my mortgage. You paid for my holiday. You changed my life.” It’s amazing.
Hearing the crowd shout my name when I’m coming down the home straight is what I imagine it feels like for Ronaldo when he scores a goal at Old Trafford. I appreciate it’s a very selfish buzz – only I can enjoy it – but God I love it. Some people say, “I don’t like it, I don’t like it.” I’m like, “Yhat’s bullshit. It’s fucking great.”
Testing positive for cocaine in 2012 was a very difficult time for me and the people around me. I had to take my children out of school for a bit because of the pressure and it took me a while to get back into things. I did feel like it was blown out of all proportion, like I was some sort of serial killer. At the end of the day, I failed a drug test, I didn’t kill anyone.
It took me three years to get over surviving a plane crash in June 2000. It was a major trauma – everybody told me I was a different person after the experience. I didn’t have any therapy afterwards; maybe I should have done. Eventually my family helped me pull through. I’ve been lucky twice. Once surviving the plane crash, once when my friend Ray pulled me from the wreckage. I grab life by the balls every single day.
I’m definitely not mellowing with age. I’m still all or nothing. What does my wife make of that? She takes no notice. She’s used to me now. She lets me get on with it.
I’ve lived in Britain for 37 years, but I still feel Italian. I don’t quite have the stiff upper lip that the English do. I’m quite flamboyant – I approach life with a smile on my face.
I don’t know when I’m going to stop. I’m still enjoying it. I’m still getting the winning rides. There’s no reason to quit. Lester Piggott was still riding when he was 58 – that’s a good benchmark – but to me age is just a number. It was a big shock turning 50, but since turning 51, I feel like the clock’s going the other way.