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Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Frankie Dettori wins Gold Cup at his last Royal Ascot on Courage Mon Ami

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The greatest racing showman of the past 30 years ensured a suitably dramatic conclusion to his final Gold Cup here on Thursday. Frankie Dettori arrived with a perfectly timed run on Courage Mon Ami to overhaul Coltrane, the favourite, having started the long turn towards home with one horse behind him.

Dettori punched the air as he crossed the line, in what was perhaps a cathartic moment after his failure to add a fourth Gold Cup win to Stradivarius’s career record in the past two runnings of the race. He received some criticism for his efforts after both defeats, but his arrival centre-stage on Thursday was timed to the second.

In the early stages, there were obvious parallels with the 2021 Gold Cup, as Subjectivist and Joe Fanning, the winners two years ago, raced into a clear lead.

Stradivarius found trouble in running as he tried to make ground in that race, but Dettori was happy to sit well off the pace on Courage Mon Ami, making the fourth start of his career and his first in any Group race, never mind a Group One.

Subjectivist had been nursed back to race-fitness after suffering a career-threatening injury a few weeks after his Gold Cup victory, and he ran a fine race to still hold a narrow lead at the top of the straight. Coltrane, though, was not far behind, and he took over two out as Subjectivist started to tread water, only for Dettori to deliver Courage Mon Ami with a decisive run on the way to a three-quarter length success.

It was a ninth win in the race for Dettori, which means he will retire two short of Lester Piggott’s all-time record, and a 79th win at the meeting.

“I didn’t expect it,” he said. “The last five years I’ve had Stradivarius, so the pressure was on. This one I thought was a bit of a chancer coming from handicaps, but John [Gosden, the winner’s trainer] was confident.

“I rode him cold [off the pace] and it just happened. I got the splits when I wanted to and he showed a turn of foot.

“The last half a furlong, I couldn’t give in to Oisin [Murphy, on Coltrane]. I thought: ‘no, we’ve got this far, please keep going’.

“It’s unbelievable, my last year, winning the Gold Cup. Myself, the king and Queen Camilla had a talk beforehand about his win [with Desert Hero earlier on the card] and my relationship with his mother, Queen Elizabeth. Then the next race I go on and win the Gold Cup and he presents the trophy. It’s amazing, really amazing.

“I wanted to ride Courage Mon Ami to run well because I really don’t know the horse and I didn’t know his capability or if he was able to stay. I knew there would be pace, I wanted to swing out wide but Stéphane [Pasquier, on Big Call] kept me in and actually won me the race, because I thought: ‘I’ll cut the corner and see what happens’. Then it happened.”

Courage Mon Ami is the third consecutive four-year-old to win the Gold Cup, after Subjectivist and Kyprios, and it is conceivable all three will be in the lineup next year, when Courage Mon Ami will be in need of a new jockey.

Gosden will not be short of applications when the time comes, but he took a moment to reflect on his long association with Dettori, as well as their brief falling-out over some of his rides at this meeting 12 months ago.

“He’s had a phenomenal career,” Gosden said. “Thirty years we’ve been working together, on and off. We’ve had one argument in 30 years. How many marriages can say that?

“We patched that up after five days and were winning Group Ones in Deauville straight after that. We had a disagreement, that’s fine, that’s professional, and we kicked on after that. Look at the result today.”

Courage Mon Ami set off as a well-backed 15-2 chance thanks to his jockey, but there was a huge result for the bookmakers when Valiant Force won the opening Norfolk Stakes at 150-1, equalling the record winning starting price for the meeting set by Nando Parrado in the Coventry Stakes three years ago.

It was a first winner at the meeting for the Amo Racing operation founded by the leading football agent Kia Joorabchian.

“We knew Valiant Force was a nice horse and I couldn’t believe the price,” Adrian Murray, the winner’s trainer, said. “It didn’t make sense, I knew he was much better than that. It’s the stuff of dreams.”

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