28th September 1996 was no ordinary day at Ascot Racecourse. It was one that changed the lives of certain people at the races (more than later), and it provided the public with the spectacle of one of the most unrepeatable feats in sporting history – Frankie Dettori’s Magnificent Seven.
If you look online today, racing and sports websites are celebrating the 25th anniversary of that event. But even were it not a birthday of sorts, everyone connected to British racing knows the tale. It’s become part of racing folklore and pop culture, to such an extent that there is an online casino game – Frankie Dettori’s Magic Seven – based on that crazy day at Ascot.
So, what exactly happened? And why are we still talking about it today?
Well, 28th September was the day that Dettori ‘went through the card’ and delivered seven successive winners. This was no minor event – this was Queen Elizabeth II Stakes day at Ascot, which features some of the best runners and riders on the planet. Some of his rides were the favourites, and others were longshots. Some of the races featured a few dozen runners, others small fields. It didn’t matter.
Seven races, and seven wins. The combined odds of Dettori’s feat was something in the region of 25,000/1. And, as we mentioned, some lives were changed that day, as some of the racegoers bet on the Italian delivering in every contest. One lucky punter actually cashed in a slip for £500,000. Perhaps due to Dettori’s immense popularity, the day at Ascot was calculated to cost bookmakers around £30 million in payouts. Dettori wasn’t the only one smiling that day.
A seven-timer never to be repeated
Dettori’s rides that day were (in order): Wall St (2/1), Diffident (12/1), Mark of Esteem (10/3), Decorated Hero (7/1), Fatefully (7/4), Lochangel (5/4), Fujiyama Crest (2/1). Nostalgia can play tricks on people’s recollections, but it was probably around the fourth race when people really started appreciating that something truly unique could occur. By the time of the last race, the money was pouring in on Fujiyama Crest. The BBC interrupted its usual Saturday schedule to broadcast live from Ascot.
It’s fair to say one of the reasons we still talk about this today is because it will never be repeated. Sure, on some low-key day at the races somewhere in the world, you might see a jockey win every event they are entered in. But we will never again see something at this level.
If you look around the web, you will find listicle-type articles talking about the most incredible sporting feats. You might see something like Roger Federer’s 23 successive Grand Slam semi-final appearances or the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season as comparable. But it’s hard to find anything remotely similar in horse racing.
Dettori, of course, has achieved much more in his career. Today, he is still considered one of the world’s best jockeys and continues to break records in races across the world. But that magical day at Ascot put the Italian on the map, paving the way for Dettori to become one of racing’s superstars, and the owner of a record that surely will never be broken.