By Nicholas Godfrey
Saudi Arabia: From a £3,000 all-weather claimer at Lingfield in 1994 to a $1 million sprint in Saudi Arabia 26 years later: that’s the journey taken by veteran trainer Allan Smith and his old pal Frankie Dettori.
This odd couple – one a Bahraini-based Essex boy, the other the world’s most famous jockey – teamed up to claim the STC 1351 Turf Sprint with Dark Power on the Saudi Cup undercard at King Abdulaziz racecourse on the outskirts of Riyadh last weekend.
Smith is keen to bring the grey gelding, who carries the colours of Sheikh Isa’s Al Adiyat Racing, back to Britain to run in the summer, when doubtless he would love to secure the services of Dettori, who first rode for him with a six-length victory on stable favourite Old Hook at Lingfield in 1994.
‘We do have a pretty good track record together,” said Smith, 69. “Frankie first rode for me in 1994 and he’s come out to Bahrain many times, and he rode for me in Dubai as well. But in all the times he’d ridden for me, he’s only finished out of the first three a couple of times.
“He’s a top-class jockey,” Smith went on. “When you send a top-class jockey out there like Frankie, you don’t have to worry. A trainer can’t do anything when the horse gets out there and Frankie just very rarely makes mistakes.”
There were certainly no mistakes in Riyadh as Dark Power, formerly trained in Britain by Clive Cox, ran down Charlie Appleby’s Mubtasim with a beautifully timed Dettori special to land by far the most lucrative success of Smith’s long career.
“Frankie gave him a super ride,” said Smith. “The main thing was getting him settled early on and Frankie just got him slotted in and relaxed. I always thought he’d make a seven-furlong horse even when I bought him. We bought a sprinter, but he’s always done his best at the end of a race.”
Though the winner was sent off 66-1 with British bookmakers, Smith was expecting a decent performance. “No one takes any notice of us but I knew he’d make a good impression,” he grinned.
“It’s difficult to say it without sounding big-headed but we’ve trained him to the minute. A month ago you wouldn’t have given him a chance but we’ve done a couple of racecourse gallops in Bahrain with another very good horse.
“It’s nice to be on the big stage – it is very satisfying, not just for me but my son Paul does so much work, He’s a bit of an unsung hero – he does do a lot of the work. I always say it’s no good having a dog and barking yourself and he does a lot of barking!”
While he has never trained in Britain, Smith has enjoyed long, successful stints in both Belgium and Bahrain, plus three years in Dubai, where he registered his previous biggest success with Skoozi in the first round of the Maktoum Challenge at Nad Al Sheba in 2002.
His son Martin trains in Newmarket, and Smith senior is now keen for Dark Power to represent Bahrain in Britain in the summer – though he may have to twist Sheikh Isa’s arm on the subject.
“I’ll have to try to persuade him,” said the trainer. “But we could look at a variety of races – he’s fast enough for five, he broke the track record over five in Bahrain so he’s not slow but on the other hand, he’s not your typical type of sprinter, he extends his stride, he’s a big-moving horse. He’s a bit of a Cadillac.”