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Dettori Can Imagine an Initial U.S. Triple Crown Win

Legendary European jockey Frankie Dettori has won races in at least 24 different countries, an atlas of a list that includes Hungary and Trinidad and Tobago.

His résumé includes more than 500 group/graded stakes wins.

He has won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) six times. The Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T) five times. The Dubai World Cup (G1) four times, and the Japan Cup (G1) three times.

One noticeable omission on that sterling and lengthy list of accomplishments is an American Triple Crown victory, but that could change in epic fashion May 18 at Pimlico Race Course.

Dettori will be aboard Imagination  in the $2 million Preakness Stakes (G1) for trainer Bob Baffert, an eight-time winner of the Preakness and as big of a personality in the United States as Dettori is overseas.

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Imagination is the 3-1 second choice in the revised Preakness morning line, and for Dettori winning his first Triple Crown race for Baffert would add a solid gold exclamation point to the accomplishment.

“The horse has been good to me,” Dettori said about Imagination. “We won the San Felipe and were second in the Santa Anita Derby. He’s a solid horse who has never been out of the top two (in six career starts). I’m riding for a Hall of Fame trainer in Bob Baffert and I’m very excited.”

The 53-year-old Dettori, who had announced plans to retire last year that were ultimately scrapped, has been riding in peak form, dispelling any notion that age has caught up with him.

For proof, there was the April 6 Santa Anita Derby (G1) card at Santa Anita Park. While Dettori finished second by a neck with Imagination in the featured race, he reeled off an amazing six straight wins during the card, a feat with odds of about 77,000-1.

“He loves horse racing and is so passionate about it. We should enjoy Frankie as much as we can,” said Tom Ryan of SF Racing, managing partner of the group that owns Imagination. “The  industry should do everything it can to keep him riding. He’s a legendary figure on a global scale. He’s so good for the sport.”

Imagination has a habit of finding trouble in a race and Ryan raved about Dettori’s handling of the 3-year-old in his two rides aboard the million-dollar son of Into Mischief  , the San Felipe Stakes (G2) and the Santa Anita Derby.

“Frankie is the man who can handle him. This horse has faced a little bit of adversity in all of his starts. In the San Felipe, he got t-boned on the first turn and Frankie gathered him up, slid out to the middle of the track, dropped his hands and got him to relax and then re-engage. He went on to win that race,” Ryan said. “Frankie made it look easy, but that’s not an easy thing to do. Frankie and Imagination are a great team. Frankie has a lot of confidence in the horse and we have a lot of confidence in Frankie.”

Most of the ownership group, which also includes Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, Dianne Bashor, and Ryan, already has tasted grade 1 success with Dettori. In the March 3 historic Santa Anita Handicap (G1), Dettori guided the Baffert-trained Newgate  to a head victory for the long list of owners.

“For Frankie to win the Big ‘Cap on our horse, it was an emotional moment. It was a big bucket list item for him,” Ryan said. “I grew up watching him ride in Europe and to be a small part of his career in America, it’s magical.”

Of course, a flying dismount Saturday after the second jewel of the Triple Crown would add even more superlatives to those words of praise.

“Frankie already has a grade 1 win for us,” Ryan said, “and I hope there’s more to the story.”

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