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Last Updated: Friday, 5 November, 2004, 08:48 GMT
Focus the key for Dettori
By Ed King

FROM TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH
Frankie Dettori pictured after his plane crash in 2000, and in happier times in 2004
I've stared death in the face. Racing is not my top priority right now
2000 - Dettori after crash

I want to keep racing as long and as hard as I can - just for me
2004 - Dettori on the title trail

Frankie Dettori will seal a remarkable turnaround when he is crowned champion jockey on Saturday for the first time since 1995.

Less than five years after the plane crash which almost claimed his life, Dettori is back at the top of his profession.

Just 12 months ago, the rider was at a crossroads in his career after another average summer in the saddle.

It was relatively simple. He could remain the nation's favourite jockey, laughing for the cameras, appearing on A Question of Sport and making time for the public.

Or he could apply himself to what he does best - winning races.

Dettori was forced to reassess his priorities after the plane crash outside Newmarket in June 2000 that killed pilot Patrick Mackey and injured himself and fellow jockey Ray Cochrane.

The Italian, who famously rode all seven winners on the card at Ascot in 1996 at combined odds of more than 25,000-1, had only survived after his colleague had pulled him from the burning wreckage.

Dettori decided to devote more time to outside interests and enjoy life a little, but it was a choice that adversely affected his results on the track.

His cheery disposition masked a fierce determination to win, which culminated in a phone call to Cochrane - now his agent.

"Frankie rang me from Dubai and we decided to hit the nail on the head and go for 150 winners in 2004," Cochrane told BBC Sport.

"That was the start - you can't really start talking about the championship until half-way through the year, what with accidents, weight and horses being sick.

Ray Cochrane
He's fired up and riding brilliantly
Ray Cochrane
"He said he was up for it this year and told me to get knocking on all the doors and get the winners."

This change in focus meant Dettori had to give up outside interests such as his TV work and start putting in the hours at smaller race meetings he would have avoided a year before.

By his own admission he had become a 'part-timer', a stark contrast to six-time champion jockey Kieren Fallon.

"When you want to compete in top-flight sport you have to be totally focused on what you're doing, and that will take up the majority of your time," added Cochrane, who was awarded the Queen's commendation for bravery after rescuing Dettori.

"I always knew Frankie was in with a good chance if he was focused on his job. We discussed it earlier in the year and I said: 'If you want this you can get it.'

"He's a very talented person and he can do his job very easily - as we've seen."

Dettori made a blistering start to the season, including five winners at Folkstone at the start of April, at combined odds of 947-1.

He continued to notch up the wins throughout the year, and despite failing again to win the Derby, claimed six vital victories at Royal Ascot two weeks later.

While reigning champion Fallon was busy denying allegations of race-fixing, and injury compounded his problems, Cochrane remains convinced that his man would have won even if his main challenger had enjoyed a trouble-free year.

"If you look at the way Frankie has been riding all year, it's clear that he would have taken a lot of beating," he said.

"We're only just short of 200 winners, and that's championship-winning form.

"When we moved 15 clear a few weeks ago I knew Kieren would have a hard slog to catch us, because we weren't going to stop riding winners."

And a win counts wherever it is achieved - be it at Folkestone, Musselburgh or Ascot.

Nowhere was off limits for Dettori this year, with Cochrane scouring the country for winning rides, no matter how obscure.

"He has enjoyed his riding all year, he's looked forward to every race and he hasn't moaned too much," Cochrane said.

"I'm looking forward to next year. People can see he's fired up and riding brilliantly and they'll want him again."

After Saturday's final turf meeting at Doncaster, Dettori will start a one-month ban imposed by Australian stewards for careless riding in the Melbourne Cup.

He will largely only miss domestic all-weather action, and Dettori, previously champion in 1994 and 1995, has earned a rest.




FLAT RACING 2004

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SEE ALSO
Dettori tells of crash horror
05 Jun 00 |  UK News
Frankie: The punter's pal
08 Oct 01 |  Other Sports



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