Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has revealed he was not surprised to see Frankie Dettori extend his riding career and is relishing the prospect of locking horns with the Italian again when he relocates to California.
Dettori was due to hang up his saddle following a year-long retirement roadshow which started in America last winter and has taken in far-flung places such as Hungary and Sweden during the height of the European summer.
His last day riding in the UK remains scheduled to be Qipco British Champions Day before taking to the road for the Breeders’ Cup, Melbourne Cup and Hong Kong’s valuable international meeting in December.
However, the 52-year-old has U-turned on his decision to retire completely and will head to America to be based out of Santa Anita, as he was during a successful spell earlier in the year which saw him finish second in their jockey standings.
Having seen first hand how well Dettori was riding and enjoying his time in the US, the man who partnered Justify to Triple Crown glory in 2018 is delighted to see his long-time weighing-room rival return Stateside.
“I chose to ride a little longer and if he has done as well then that’s wonderful,” said Smith.
“He was welcomed here with open arms when he came last time and he was an amazing addition to American racing.
“He came in and adapted well and was winning races left and right and was having a really fun time doing it.
“So I can’t say I am shocked and you could say the writing was on the wall a long time ago maybe.
“I say that just because he was having such a good time here and I thought if you stay healthy and in good shape, which he is, then you can keep riding for a good few more years.”
Dettori has highlighted winning the Kentucky Derby as one of his main ambitions for making the switch to America permanently.
And although admitting it may be a tough ask, Smith – who has partnered two winners of the Run for the Roses – believes there is no reason why Dettori can not stumble across a Churchill Downs candidate while still riding at the peak of his powers.
He added: “Winning the Derby is hard and whether that is winning the Derby here or a Derby in Europe.
“It’s extremely hard, but it can be done and for a rider with his talent, it’s not like you need to get to know him. He’s already proven he rides the dirt every bit as good as he rides the grass and all it takes is one good opportunity on a really good horse – and we all know what a good horse can do for a jockey.”
The 58-year-old Smith is also embracing the chance to ride against his slightly younger rival once again and cannot wait to welcome him back into the US weighing room.
He explains how he understands Dettori’s decision to continue riding, admitting he has no desire to hang up his own saddle while still enjoying the thrill of competition.
“There’s nothing like great competition with great, wonderful people. It makes you rise to the occasion and makes you a better rider yourself. I look forward to him coming,” continued Smith.
“He always brings excitement to the jocks room wherever he goes, he’s fun to have around. It’s going to be great and I’m happy for him. As long as he’s happy and it’s what he wants to do, then I’m all for it.
“At my age, and I’m older than he is, I’m enjoying it every bit now as I did back then.
“I don’t ride as many as I used to, but you can still ride quality and there’s just nothing quite like riding a wonderful horse – and the only way you will get that feeling is to be on one and doing it.
“When you do hang it all up, you will never feel that again, so I’m going to hang on as long as possible myself.”