Saturday, 28 September 1996 will forever be remembered as one of the greatest days in racing history when Frankie Dettori rode all seven winners on the card at Ascot. It is 20 years ago since that astonishing achievement, which was all the more remarkable considering this was the Festival of British Racing.
The popular Italian, who was the reigning champion jockey, arrived at the course with decent prospects and a double or possibly a treble, although at such a prestigious meeting every jockey or trainer would tell you that one winner would constitute a successful day.
Dettori got the day off to a flying start winning on Wall Street (2-1) in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes, which was swiftly followed by Diffident, a 12-1 chance, in the Diadem.
No alarm bells were ringing at this time or even after the feature race, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, in which Mark Of Esteem (100-30) memorably beat Bosra Sham.
As Decorated Hero (7-1) passed the post in the Tote Festival Handicap, the fourth race, Sir Peter O’Sullevan failed to conceal his excitement from his TV commentary box as he exclaimed: “He’s done it again” and the tally was now four from four. At that point, the BBC decided to extend coverage by recording the next three races - until Frankie was beaten!
As a sub-editor on The Sporting Life that afternoon it only really started to resonate in the office that we were on the verge of witnessing history when Fatefully (7-4) made it a perfect five in the Rosemary Stakes.
Lochangel’s (5-4) Blue Seal Stakes success not only kept the dream alive, but equalled the record of Gordon Richards and Alec Russell in winning six races on the same card.
It also left the bookies reeling and their only way of minimising losses was to lay Frankie’s final runner in the hope that he lost. Several shrewd form judges among the bookmaking ranks saw this as a great opportunity to right a few wrongs.
Fujiyama Crest was the horse that had the responsibility of delivering the hero of the hour to the winners’ enclosure and, as a 12-1 shot in the morning betting, his chance was far from obvious.
Sir Michael Stoute, his trainer, recalled: “I thought Frankie would be absolutely knackered and this old bugger takes a bit of riding over two miles. As he left the paddock Frankie turned to me and said ‘if this gets beaten, it’s your fault not mine because I am red hot’.”
With unprecedented liabilities running up, the 4yo was sent off the 2-1 favourite.
Jason Weaver, who rode in that Gordon Carter Stakes recalls: “Frankie was very relaxed because even he didn’t think it could happen. I was craning my neck to see what was happening and he is absolutely throwing the sink at Fujiyama Crest.”
To the delight of every sports fan the length and breadth of the British Isles, Dettori and his uncharacteristically willing partner came together as one and through sheer courage and willpower the dream was complete and we had witnessed, The Magnificent Seven.
For one punter, Darren Yates, his relatively modest outlay saw him rewarded with a cheque for over £550,000 after predicting the 25,091-1 accumulator, and there were countless other Dettori backers that won small fortunes. One unfortunate follower had placed seven £1 wins on each winner, but failed to add an extra £1 for an accumulator, which would have earned him a return of an extra £25,091. Instead he drew a profit of £26!
The bookmaking industry reported a collective loss of £40 million and there were myriad tales of serious woe from layers on and off course.
Weaver, a weighing-room colleague of Dettori, summed up his Herculean effort on that incredible afternoon: “There were races that afternoon Frankie had no right to win.”
All sports have their high points, such as Brian Lara’s 400 not out, Martina Navratilova’s six successive Wimbledon titles or Pele’s 127 goals in a year and in racing we also have one in that exclusive collection – The Magnificent Seven.
One happy postscript was that Fujiyama Crest became a member of the Dettori family and spent his retirement at Newmarket enjoying life with his old partner in crime.
By JOHN O’HARA