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Italian jockey Frankie Dettori riding "Free Wind" arrives to compete in his last race ahead of The Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe horse race at The Paris Longchamp racecourse in Paris on Sunday. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: “I woke up a bit sad and it really hit me” Frankie Dettori told AFP hours away from his final ever rides in France, signing off in their flagship meeting featuring European racing’s most prestigious race the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The 52-year-old-Italian superstar jockey has enjoyed like a rock star a season-long farewell tour, not all just encores but producing one of his greatest hits along the way.

He rates his ride on Mostahdaf to beat the Irish star Paddington at York in August giving him a record sixth International Stakes triumph as one of his top five of all time.

The charismatic rider like all stars put up patiently with the autograph hunters and those seeking memes as he strode round Longchamp for a last time on Sunday.

“I must say, I woke up a bit sad and it really hit me, this is the last one, and it is one of my favourites Longchamp,” he told AFP.

As for which rock star he would compare himself to for once the garrulous England-based Italian was lost for words.

“You have put me on the spot,” he said chuckling as the sun beamed down on the winners enclosure which he has visited on so many occasions through the decades.

“Okay ... Robbie Williams!” he added without launching into a rendition of ‘Angels’ or ‘She’s The One’.

Boon for racecourses

Dettori has given racing fans round the globe time to say farewell announcing he was retiring last December.

It was in stark contrast to perhaps the greatest jumps jockey of all time Ruby Walsh who retired on the spot after riding Kemboy to win the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2019.

Dettori’s drawn out retirement has been a boon for racecourses attracting larger crowds but such is his allure they travel far and wide to see him ride.

The former landlady of his local pub in Newmarket came to Longchamp for his adieu recalling him jumping up and down on a chair many years ago cheering on his beloved Arsenal.

Another lady, who was almost blind, travelled 19 hours on a coach from Exeter to attend the Arc — the organisers let the doughty lady in for free.

‘A big hug’

As will be the case later this month with his final Champions Day at Ascot, the racecourse with which he is most closely associated with, where he rode all seven winners on September 28, 1996 he bids goodbye to France with fond memories.

This despite it was France Galop who banned him for six months in December 2012 for failing a dope test.

“France has been a really amazing place for me,” he said.

“I have won every group race on Arc weekend more than once.

“France has been very good to me. I have had good support, got some great friends and I am going to miss that.”

Each moment registered with him that it was indeed the last day in a French weighing room, not least the riding kit he has kept in France which will accompany him back on the plane on Sunday.

'Bit sad'

“When I arrived this morning (at 0800GMT) the valet gave me a bag to gather all my stuff,” said Dettori.

“Taking that back really hits one that it is over.

“I have just had my last massage and my masseuse Sylvie gave me a big hug.

“I am a bit sad.”

Dettori is such a massive presence that the old adage ‘The King is dead, Long live the King!’ does not apply to him with regards to the number peg he hangs his clothes on in the jockey’s weighing room.

“They (the other jockeys) were arguing over who would take my peg number.

“By mutual consent no one is going to take it.

“My number has been retired, a great honour like if they did that to an Arsenal player!”

His peg retired and after a fruitless day winners-wise in the saddle, French racing paid homage to him — his fellow jockeys serenading him to the winners podium.

There he received a bronze from legendary French jockey Yves Saint Martin and in a touching gesture they brought his father and former jockey Lanfranco Dettori and his mother up for the presentation.

A visibly moved Dettori wiped away a tear and soaked up the applause French style for one last time.