To say that Frankie Dettori is a lucky man would be an understatement. The 29-year-old jockey escaped death in a horrific plane crash that killed his pilot in England only four months ago and did not return to race riding until August.
On Oct. 15 at Woodbine, Dettori was on the winning end of a shocking photo in the $1.5-million Canadian International (Can-IT), the sixth leg of the Emirates World Series Racing Championship. Dettori lifted Godolphin's Mutafaweq over the finish line for the narrowest of victories (it officially was called a nose, but was closer to an inch) over Emil Cerullo's Williams News, ridden by Woodbine's top jockey, Patrick Husbands.
"I definitely thought I lost," said Dettori, who had just missed in the day's co-featured E.P. Taylor Stakes (Can-IT) aboard the filly Innuendo. "We hit the line together. I said, 'Well done,' to Patrick and he was so excited he nearly pulled me off my horse. I could not believe it when they put my number up."
Mutafaweq, a 4-year-old by Silver Hawk--The Caretaker, staged a thrilling stretch duel with Williams News through the final furlongs of the 1 1/2-mile turf race. Just past the finish, Husbands pumped his arm, celebrating what he thought was the biggest win of his young career.
"I think my horse had a perfect trip; he ran his eyeballs out," said a distraught Husbands when the race was official. "After the wire, Frankie told me, 'Congratulations,' and I really thought I won the race."
The official photo was grainy, but did indicate Mutafaweq had his head down a bit more at the wire. Daliapour, owned by the Aga Khan, was 2 3/4 lengths back in third as the race favorite. The running time of 2:27.62 was the fastest for the race in the last five runnings.
The 63rd edition of the International may not have had a superstar entrant but the Ontario Jockey Club did assemble a competitive field of 12 grass specialists, including five from overseas.
Daliapour, a smallish son of Sadler's Wells, had won the group I Coronation Cup in June, defeating Fantastic Light, considered one of the favorites for the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 4.
The colt's team of the Aga Khan, trainer Michael Stoute, and jockey Johnny Murtagh were red-hot in recent weeks. They won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) with Sinndar. The day before the International, their Kalanisi defeated Montjeu in the Dubai Champion Stakes (Eng-I).
Mutafaweq, a group I winner in Germany in July, had been bogged down by yielding turf in his previous two starts and was sent to Woodbine seeking firm ground.
The German-based Caitano was fresh off an easy score in the group II Bogazici Cup in Turkey, and Murghem, an invader from England, had won five of 11 starts this season for trainer Mark Johnston.
The lightly raced Lycitus, a group III winner in France and recently purchased by Jed Cohen, was making his North American debut in the International for trainer Darrell Vienna.
Williams News headed the two-pronged American invasion, but his inconsistent form made the 5-year-old gelding hard to predict. Tappat, winner of the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup in August, shipped up from Delaware for trainer Tom Greene.
The five-horse Canadian contingent all were considered outsiders, including the lone filly Free Vacation, who had beaten males in the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Stakes last fall.
The early part of the race was uneventful as Canadian longshot Dawson's Legacy scampered away to a clear lead with Free Vacation and Daliapour in close pursuit. By the midpoint of the final turn, Dawson's Legacy began to weaken, Daliapour was stalling, and Mutafaweq made his move.
"I had the favorite beat at the quarter pole," said Dettori. "Then I made my way home because I knew my horse would stay. Patrick's horse came to me at the furlong marker, and he went by me by a neck. I just asked (Mutafaweq) for his last effort, and he got his head down and dug deep."
It was the first win in the International for the personable Dettori, who took the lead in the jockey standings for the Emirates series with 28 points.
"It's amazing that I'm here speaking to you," said Dettori. "It's only been four months that I was nearly dead. When you win races like this, it really makes it all worthwhile. It makes you appreciate that we all have a great life."
Mutafaweq, whose name means "always the best, always the winner" in Arabic, is trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, who was confident in his colt's chances when he checked out the firm Woodbine turf the morning of the race.
"Firm ground is what he likes and the distance is what he likes," said Suroor. "He looks better than he did in England. This is a great race, one of the biggest in the sport."
The CAN$900,000 (about $600,000 U.S.) winner's share pushed Mutafaweq's earnings to more than $1.5 million from six wins in 13 starts.
Suroor said a decision on a Breeders' Cup start for Mutafaweq will be made after he determines how the horse bounces back from the International and what kind of turf condition he will get at Churchill Downs. ANOTHER BELL RINGER
Trainer David Bell's domination of Woodbine stakes continued in the $500,000 E.P. Taylor, yet another major grass race at Woodbine this season that was decided by a photo finish.
Fly For Avie, a pint-sized mare owned by Ivan Dalos, got up in the last desperate strides to win the 1 1/4-mile turf race for fillies and mares by a nose over Irish-bred Lady Upstage. It was another nose back to Dettori and Innuendo.
It was the ninth stakes win in 2000 for Bell and another feather in the cap for jockey Todd Kabel, who won the Queen's Plate Stakes this year with Scatter the Gold. Fly for Avie, a 5-year-old daughter of Lord Avie--Fly for Baby, was the second-longest shot in the six-horse field at 8-1.
After trailing the slow early pace set by grade II winner Lady At Peace and her jockey Yutaka Take, Fly for Avie started a rally heading into the long home stretch.
"I was waiting for the longest time," said Kabel. "I was hoping the horses would spread apart in the lane, which they didn't, so I had one choice left and that was to jump heels. Thank God I got up or I would have had a lot of explaining to do."
The time on firm turf was 2:02.78.
Bell recently got Fly for Avie back at his Woodbine barn after the mare spent a short time with Christophe Clement. She finished third in the grade II Orchid Handicap at Gulfstream Park in March for Clement.
In her first race back for Bell, Fly for Avie was second in the Flaming Page Handicap at Woodbine in early September, setting her up for her biggest score in the Taylor.
"It was very impressive," said Bell of his mare's exciting victory. "She doesn't usually have that turn of foot late in the race. It was perfect." SPEED TO SPARE
Bruno Schickedanz is hoping to take his speedy 3-year-old Wake At Noon to the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) following the colt's three-quarter length victory in the $165,000 Highlander Stakes (Can-III) earlier on the card.
The son of Cure the Blues led throughout the six-furlong race and defeated Team Valor Stables and Vincent Campobasso's Silky Sweep in a time of 1:10.38. Wake At Noon ended a four-race losing streak in the Highlander. The colt was sixth to More Than Ready in the King's Bishop (gr. I) at Saratoga in his previous start.
)This article appears in the Oct. 21 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine.