Dettori’s Magnificent Seven

On Saturday, September 28, 1996, reigning champion jockey Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori arrived at Ascot Racecourse for the Festival of British Racing – a forerunner of what is now British Champions’ Day – with a full book of seven rides. Two, three or possibly four of them held realistic chances of winning but, at the start of the day, no-one – or, at least, hardly anyone – could have predicted that Dettori would achieve the nigh on impossible feat of partnering all seven winners on the card.

Dettori opened his account on Wall Street, trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, on behalf of Goldolphin, his principal employer, in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes. Further success in the royal-blue silks of Godolphin followed on Diffident, who scraped home by a short head, in the Diamed Stakes, Mark Of Esteem in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and, later in the afternoon, Fatefully in the Roseberry Rated Stakes.

In between times, Dettori partnered Decorated Hero, trained by John Gosden, to an easy victory in the Tote Festival Handicap, causing BBC television to extend its coverage until just a time that Dettori was beaten. BBC producers were not to be disappointed because Dettori extended his winning sequence to six when making all the running to win the Blue Seal Stakes on Lochangel, trained by Andrew Balding. By that stage, the popular Italian jockey had already equalled the record held by Sir Gordon Richards and Alec Russell by winning six consecutive races on the same card but, with one race left, still had the chance to complete an unprecedented seven-timer.

Coincidentally, his remaining mount, Fujiyama Crest, had won the closing Gordon Carter Handicap on the same card the previous year but, having failed to add to his winning tally – including when finishing tailed off in the Northumberland Plate on his previous outing – was available at 12/1 on the morning of the race. Nevertheless, in the face of unprecedented liabilities, Fujiyama Crest started 2/1 favourite and, as he had done the previous year, made all the running to land the spoils. What henceforth became known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’ landed odds in excess of 25,000/1 at starting price and in excess of 235,000/1 at the best odds available.

Aly Dia

Aly, or Ali, Dia is a Senegalese former professional footballer who, in November, 1996, was at the centre of the most famous hoax in the history of the Premier League. On the recommendation of someone purporting to be FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah, Dia, 31, was signed, on a one-month deal, by Southampton manager Graeme Souness. At the time, Souness reportedly said, ‘He’s played with George Weah at Paris Saint-Germain, and last year he was playing in the second division in Germany.’

In any event, injuries limited Southampton to just two fit first-team strikers, Egil Ostenstad and Matt Le Tissier, for their home fixture against Leeds United on November 23, such that Dia was named as a substitute after just a single training session. Le Tissier was forced off with a thigh injury after just half and hour and Dia replaced him, to make his Premier League debut. It would, in fact, be his one and only Premier League appearance because he was, as Le Tissier put it, ‘f***ing hopeless’. After 85 minutes, with Southampton trailing 1-0, Souness cut his losses and replaced Dia with defender Ken Monkou.

It was really no surprise that Dia proved unworthy of top flight football because, unbeknown to Souness, prior to signing for Southampton he had been playing not in 2. Bundesliga, but in the Northern Premier League for Blyth Spartans. ‘George Weah’ had apparently recommended Dia to several other clubs, including Third Division Gillingham, whose manager Tony Pulis said later, ‘…we gave the lad a trial and he was rubbish’. Ultimately, Dia lasted just two weeks at Southampton – although he did earn £2,000 a week – before returning to non-league football with Gateshead in the Conference Premier.

Eric Cantona

Former Manchester United striker Eric Cantona already had a reputation as a hothead with a dodgy temperament before his arrival at Old Trafford from Leeds United in November, 1992. However, it was nearly two years later, in January, 1995, when Cantona was involved in the most shocking episode of his football career.

During a Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, in South London, Cantona was subjected to robust, but fair – at least, in the eyes of the referee – tackling, particularly centre half Richard Shaw, who had been assigned to closely man-mark the Frenchman by Palace manager Alan Smith. Early in the second half, following the latest in a series of comings together between the pair, Cantona vented his frustration by petulantly kicking out at Shaw.

Cantona duly received the fourth red card of his Manchester United career, but the incident was far from over. As he was making his way from the playing surface, Cantona was confronted by Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, who made his way down a gangway to launch a tirade of foul-mouthed abuse in his direction. On hearing his mother called a ‘French whore’, Cantona retaliated by launching what is known, in kung-fu circles, as a straight thrust kick, which carried him over the crowd barrier to strike Simmons in the abdomen with the sole of his boot.

Manchester United fined Cantona £20,000 and suspended him for four months, thereby ruling him out for the remainder of the 1994/95 Premier League season. The Football Association subsequently fined him a further £10,000 and extended the ban to nine months, until the end of September, 1995. Cantona also faced criminal charges for common assault, to which he plead guilty, at East Croydon Magistrates’ Court in March, 1995. He was initially sentenced to two weeks’ imprisonment, although this was reduced to 120 hours of community service at an appeal hearing at Croydon Crown Court the following week.

Family Business

Celebrated National Hunt jockey Sir Anthony McCoy rode 4,348 winners over jumps during his career. Family Business, who won the Feast of St. Raymond Novices’ Chase at Southwell on Wednesday, January 23, 2002, was by no means the most important, by certainly the most extraordinary. Seven runners lined up for the extended three-mile contest, worth £4,824 to the winner, but that number was quickly reduced to six when Oh No Whiskey, one of three 66/1 outsiders, fell at the first fence. Another, Star Control, followed suit at the third fence and, with a circuit to travel, Family Business, the odds-on favourite, jumped badly left and unseated McCoy.

After hurling his riding helmet to the ground in disgust, McCoy boarded a Land Rover and headed back to the weighing room, but the drama was far from over. Two fences later, second favourite Eaux Les Couers fell, when in the lead, and third favourite Joe Luke blundered and unseated rider, temporarily reducing the field to two still standing. Eaux Les Couers was remounted, though, and continued, albeit some way behind the other pair.

The new leader, What A Wonder, proceeded to unseat his rider at the very next fence, although he, too, was quickly caught and remounted. Indeed, the 7-year-old was still in a clear lead when making a mistake and unseating rider for a second time at the fourth-last fence. Remarkably, the last of the outsiders, Red Radish, and the aforementioned Eaux Les Couers both refused and unseated rider at the same obstacle, leaving no more horses in the race.

Meanwhile, as chaos reigned elsewhere, McCoy was informed that Family Business had been caught. He remounted, returned to what had been the tenth fence, jumped it successfully at the second attempt and completed the rest of the course, unscathed, to win the race.