Royal Ascot 2020: Racing royalty Dettori isn't and won't be retiring

Frankie Dettori celebrates with The Queen after partnering Stradivarius to his second Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 2019

He was just Lanfranco Dettori - not yet Frankie - and still in his teens when he banked his first Royal Ascot winner. Three decades later and the buzz still remains and the winning desire is undimmed, writes James Toney.

Dettori's statue - throwing himself jubilantly into the air in one of his trademark flying dismounts - sits in a place of honour as you walk into the course.

When you think of this place you think of The Queen but, for many, Dettori is probably next.

And, in the final furlong before his 50th birthday - he'll celebrate the landmark in December - he is showing no signs of slowing down.

Last year, after a gap of 15 years, he finished the meeting as top jockey for the sixth time in his career.

Since Markofdistinction delivered his first winner in the Queen Anne Stakes, he has returned to the parade ring to rousing cheers a further 66 times, someway short of Lester Piggott's remarkable 116 but still in a league of his own among his current peers.

This year's Ascot may have been stripped of the glamour and grandeur that seems to inspire Dettori to such heady heights but he doesn't need the motivation of a top hat to underline his determination to be top dog.

Indeed being forced to take a two month break from the saddle during lockdown has only made him more ruthless in pursuit of winners.

"That was a taste of retirement and I really didn't like it," said Dettori.

"I don't think I've been home for more than three days in my life, so to have two-and-a-half months locked inside wasn't for me, I need to keep riding to save my marriage!

"The pressure is still great, but I still love it. It is intense and you are always under the microscope. But when you feel like the whole world is watching I wouldn't change it. That's what I need to get the best out of me.

"There is no plan of stopping any time soon, especially when I am with the best stable around.

"I'm fit and I'm healthy and I'm not going to set a target for retirement. I'll just carry on for as long as my body and legs can do it.

"I also need to feel that I'm in demand, which thankfully is still the case right now."

Dettori's glory years were spent in the blue colours of the Godolphin training operation, an equine powerhouse funded by Sheikh Mohammed's billions.

Since a bad-tempered split in 2012, he has reinvented himself as racing's top gun for hire. He originally said his retirement target was 50 but trainer John Goshen, with whom he has enjoyed much success in recent years, claims, tongue only slightly in cheek, that he'll still be riding at 60.

That means another decade could loom, matching the longevity of Piggott, the only other jockey who could move markets like Frankie, turning a long-shot into a favourite just by his presence in the saddle.

In the next few weeks, Dettori has a crack book of rides for various trainers at Royal Ascot, including two hot juveniles for American-based Wesley Ward and the chance to ride the season's emerging star sprinter, Sceptical, in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

But you can forgive him for focussing on the Gold Cup, where he partners Gosden's Stradivarius in search of a third straight win in the meeting's stayers' showpiece race.

And then, when Ascot is over, he'll be focussed on reuniting with superstar mare Enable as she starts her road to Paris and a bid for an unprecedented third win in Europe's richest race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, in October.

"I like to be busy and this time of year is always the busiest," he adds. "Lockdown has concentrated our season so we've got big races coming in quick succession. There's no time to pause, you've just got to ride it out but I'm not complaining.

"I can't believe it's 30 years since my first winner at Royal Ascot. I don't remember too much about the race but it was a milestone and, I suppose, it's where it all started for me."

Dettori, meanwhile, shows no signs of finishing it just yet.