‘It was such a bad experience and it will never leave you’: Frankie Dettori recalls Newmarket plane crash 20 years ago when he nearly died… and the Italian maestro says the horror of that day puts the delayed season into perspective
- Frankie Dettori will return to the racetrack on Tuesday afternoon at Kempton
- It’ll come nearly 20 years after a plane crash which Dettori was lucky to survive
- The Italian fractured his right ankle and thumb – the plane’s pilot was killed
- Dettori tells Sportsmail that a text from his mother put his life into perspective
Frankie Dettori revealed that a text from his mother on Monday put all the disruption of the delayed season into context as he prepares to make his return to the saddle at Kempton on Tuesday afternoon.
The 49-year-old Italian has the first ride of the delayed 33rd Turf season of his career on John Gosden-trained favourite Galsworthy in the Unibet Maiden Stakes.
It will come 20 years and a day since the Newmarket plane crash in which Dettori fractured his right ankle and thumb. He survived because his Derby-winning colleague and future agent Ray Cochrane, who suffered minor burns, saved his life by pulling him from the wreckage through the plane’s luggage compartment.
Jockey Frankie Dettori was lucky to survive the Newmarket plane crash 20 years ago
The wreckage of the plane which went down (pic) – the plane’s pilot, Patrick Mackey, was killed
The incident claimed the life of the plane’s pilot Patrick Mackey.
As he readied himself to return for the first time in two decades without Cochrane booking his rides after he retired last month, Dettori told Sportsmail: ‘My mum sent me a text saying despite everything that is going on you have to look at the positive that you are still alive.
‘I had sent Ray the picture of me and him in hospital last week. He must have only seen it last night. He rang and said “What a mess we were”. We never really spoke about it and we don’t have to. It was beyond scary. It was such a bad experience and it will never leave you.
‘Racing has started again, Ray’s quit and it’s the 20th anniversary of the crash. It all just hit me last night and when I thought about it I got a bit frightened.’
Dettori had surgery on his fractured right ankle sustained in the horror crash in 2000
Dettori has become adept at dodging the retirement question and a career-best 19 Group One wins last year showed that he is the ace in the pack when it comes to big races.
He has insisted he will ride on as long as his body lets him and the Covid-19 lockdown and inactivity has reinforced his ambition to carry on as long as possible.
The three-time champion jockey said: ‘If this is the first taste of retirement I am not doing that. No way! I have been going mad. I have had to do lots of things I have never done before like empty the dishwasher!
‘There have been lots of arguments at home like who has eaten the last ice cream in the freezer! We have been jumping at each other’s throats. I think they are more pleased that racing has started than I am. They want me out of the house.
‘It’s great we have started and I can see everybody is doing the right thing. For a mini split second I nearly thought about going to Newcastle but then I thought better of it.
Racing’s return at Newcastle on Monday took place with the backdrop of empty grandstands
‘It will be quite surreal to have no crowds, especially at Royal Ascot. I just hope we might be back to more like normal by August.’
Dettori has been training wearing a face mask to get used to riding in one. He said: ‘We have to race wearing one so I thought I had better get used to it. It does restrict the breathing a bit but it is something we have to do.’
Dettori will have to wait until the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown on July 5 to be reunited with his dual Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable on the track. But the big rides will come thick and fast.
Dettori rides his dual Ascot Gold Cup winner Stradivarius in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket on Friday, Raffle Prize for trainer Mark Johnston in Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas and one of Aidan O’Brien’s runners in Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas.
Dettori will have to wait until July to be reunited with Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable
With Cochrane retired, Dettori will book his own rides with a little help from his friend Willie Ryan, the man who rode Benny The Dip to win the 1997 Derby.
Dettori said: ‘I am 50 in December. I have not got 20 years in front of me. I had plenty of offers but I don’t need some keen agent sending me here, there and everywhere.’
For now, as Frankie knows better than most, it’s just good to be back in the saddle again.