American handler Wesley Ward has backed Frankie Dettori’s decision to postpone his retirement and hailed the Italian as “one of the best jockeys to ever sit on the back of a racehorse”.
Ward and Dettori have teamed up for plenty of big-race glory down the years, notably at Royal Ascot, and should Dettori find himself back at the Berkshire track in June, the trainer will be eager to secure his services.
Before that possibility, however, Ward is likely to call on Dettori in Keeneland as he puts his Ascot team together.
The American is fully supportive of the rider’s decision to reverse his retirement call, believing he still has plenty to offer at the age of 52.
“I don’t know why he was retiring anyway – why would you retire when you are at the top of your game? I asked him what was wrong with him!” Ward told the PA news agency.
“He doesn’t look like he’s lost a step to me. Sometimes you make a decision and things change. He seems like he still has the energy and the drive, while when others call it a day you can see they don’t have the motivation any longer, they lose interest in what they have been doing for 30-plus years but I don’t think he’s any of that.
“I think he wanted to retire right at the top of the game but at the end of the day, you only live once. When you sit back and think about it, you are not going to be happy commentating on it when you are at the top of your game.
“It’s a big decision to come to America but he’s probably done it because of the success he had last year and he’ll probably have even more this year. Last year a lot of the trainers at Santa Anita didn’t know him very well, they didn’t know his personality whereas now they are familiar with him – because of that I think he’ll do better this year.”
Ward went on: “He’s one of, if not the best jockey to ever sit on the back of a racehorse. To transfer your ability worldwide, to do it in different continents, nobody has done that other than Steve Cauthen I would say.
“He’s a unique rider, he can ride anywhere in the world over decades and ride with the best. Steve retired at a much younger age, so in my mind Frankie is the greatest.
“Last winter he won a race for me at Gulfstream Park, it was good to have him up. It wasn’t a big race, just an allowance horse, but the owner told me it was her greatest thrill in racing to have Frankie ride her a winner.
“Most of my Ascot two-year-olds are based at Keeneland, so I’ll be keen to reunite with him if he goes in that direction.
“If he rides at Ascot, he’ll be riding the best of my best, that’s for sure!”