From a bricklayer’s assistant to a top jockey in Italy was quite a transformation for Gianfranco Dettori, a lad who had never set his eyes on a racehorse till in his late teens. Born in Sardinia in 1941, Gianfranco tried his hand at several jobs, including helping his father at bricklaying, before landing a job in the stables at Rome. He was 18 years of age at that point of time. At what is considered a pretty late age for a jockey, Dettori got his apprenticeship at 19. He rode his first winner a year later and four years thereafter he was Italy’s champion jockey.
In the early eighties, Franco Dettori became known as Italy’s ladies’ man. He won the Oaks d’Italia four times in five years. This was a golden period for Dettori and showed his ability to coax the best out of fillies rather than use the stick.
Dettori was relatively unknown in Britain before he won the 2000 Guineas atop the Italian-owned Bolkonski. That season in England, he had a great strike rate with 14 wins from 42 rides.
In 1976, he won the 2000 guineas once more with Wollow. After a great duel with Lester Piggott who was astride The Minstrel (an Epsom Derby winner), Dettori bagged the Irish 2000 Guineas atop Pampapaul in 1977.
One of Calcutta’s most colourful owners, the late Dasho Lhendup Dorji, who was a frequent visitor to England in the eighties, once described his son Frankie as his favourite jockey. “ That guy’s got elan, class and a will to win” – an unbeatable combination which went down well with the leading owners in Europe and England.
In 1990 son Frankie became the first teenager since Lester Piggott to ride 100 winners in one season.
His first win came at the age of 16 in Turin in November 1986, while his first in Britain was the following June. Further success followed, with numerous winners in Group 1 races. On September 28, 1996 he achieved the feat of winning all seven races on a single day at Ascot.
Another jockey who made great headway in the seventies and eighties was Greville Starkey. Starkey peaked atop John Dunlop’s Shirley Heights in 1978 but blotted his copybook eight years later when he went down narrowly astride the favourite Dancing Brave in the Epsom Derby.
Dancing Brave’s owner, Prince Khalid Bin Abdullah, signed up Pat Eddery to ride his horses from the next year. Starkey was required to partner the Prince’s runners only when Eddery was unavailable.
Some of Starkey’s other big wins in the seventies and eighties were To Agouri Mou (2000 Guineas 1981), Dancing Brave (2000 Guineas 1986) and Star Appeal (Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe 1975).