Xmas comes early for Dettori

Star jockey happy to ride again and bounce back a winner after the two-month shutdown in England

Frankie Dettori felt "like a kid on Christmas morning" ahead of his return to racing on Tuesday, following the shutdown of English racing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So, no one could blame the effervescent Italian jockey for doing cartwheels after he snared his first winner on the John Gosden-trained 4-5 favourite Galsworthy in the 2,400m Maiden Stakes at Kempton Park in the London suburbs.

"I woke up like a kid on Christmas morning," Dettori told BBC Radio. "I managed to put a shirt on for the first time, got out of my tracksuit, so that's a bit of a novelty and amazing.

"The government said 1st June kick-off of the sport behind closed doors and we were ready, I think yesterday was a success. Everything went smooth and it's nice to see some live sport on TV for once, it was great."

The 49-year-old could be back performing his famous flying dismount in top races as soon as tomorrow, when he rides the great stayer Stradivarius in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Newmarket.

"My sport is not a contact sport, so it's quite easy to be able to (social distance) with a one-way system in the jockeys' room, so it was a good start. But everything is going to come quick and fast," said Dettori, who won the 2001 Singapore Gold Cup on Kutub and the 2002 Singapore Airlines International Cup on Grandera.

"We've got amazing races this weekend and, two weeks today, it's Royal Ascot, so we haven't got much time to sit on our backside. We have to kick on with it and all the feedback from everyone was good."

English racing passed its rebound test with its first meeting at Newcastle on Monday, after being at a standstill for over two months.

It was like "the first day at a new school" for Mark Spincer, managing director of the Racing Division of Arena Racing Company (ARC).

Racing is also the first mainstream sport to resume, with football set to follow on June 17.

It was certainly a new look at Newcastle racecourse - one of 16 racetracks ARC operates - with jockeys, trainers, stable lads and lasses sporting masks and having had to pass temperature tests before being permitted onto the premises.

Trainers and jockeys stood on designated white markers in the paddock pre-race to observe social distancing regulations.

There were no spectators to either cheer the winners or heckle beaten favourites.

The 22-1 outsider Zodiakos earned himself a piece of trivia in being the first winner of the new-look racing scene.

Jockeys who were not riding had the rare luxury of sunning themselves sitting in the stand, where spectators would normally have stood.

"The atmosphere was strange, having a small amount of people here," Spincer told AFP by phone. "Also strange was, there was quite a lot of excitement from those involved from the horse box drivers to the stable lads and lasses. It was like the first day at a new school.

"It was incredibly important to get the sport started for the 20,000 people whose jobs rely on it."

Leading jockey Andrea Atzeni, who celebrated the return with a winner, said the mask took some getting used to.

"The mask covers your mouth and nose, and it was a very warm day," he told AFP by phone. "Having not ridden competitively for two months, you need a bit more oxygen than usual.

"You felt it more when you were easing up after the finish and having pushed a horse for the final two furlongs, you wanted a real blow of oxygen.

"It is not difficult to breathe but it limits it. However, to be honest, when the gates opened, you were not thinking of the mask, as the adrenalin was coursing through you."

Atzeni, who along with his fellow jockeys changed in a public bar which had been adapted so they could have their own space, said he had not noticed the lack of spectators, as Monday meetings rarely attracted a large crowd.

"We will realise the difference on Friday, with the Coronation Cup at Newmarket and the Guineas races on Saturday and Sunday," said Atzeni, who is bidding for a second Coronation Cup success on Defoe. - AFP