On the 2nd of June 2007 Lanfranco Dettori rode Authorized to victory in the world’s most prestigious horse race by an emphatic five-length margin. This painting portrays the moment when Dettori, having powered effortlessly clear of the field aboard the Montjeu colt, realises that nothing can stop him from winning the one title that has eluded him for so many years.
The Derby crowd, numbering in excess of 100,000 that day, roared itself hoarse with genuine delight as they witnessed the world’s most famous jockey finally triumph at Epsom after fourteen previous unsuccessful attempts.
‘Frankie’s First’ captures the unique Derby atmosphere, embodying the jubilation shared by so many people as they watched an extremely special horse help realise the dreams of a sublimely talented jockey. Measuring 24 by 18 inches and painted in oil on canvas, this piece of equestrian art is a triumph of bold colour and buoyant gesture.
The Derby is all about the carnival atmosphere. Obviously some very serious racing occurs on Epsom Downs over those two days, but serious racing is not unique to Epsom; the atmosphere is. Sunburned shoulders and strap marks, top hats, Dom Perignon and Dodgem rides; all walks of life are gathered on the Downs in front of Her Majesty the Queen on the first Saturday in June each year.
A painting depicting a Derby finish will struggle to focus on the beauty of nature. I decided to make enjoyment and celebration the heart of this piece. Everybody is cheering, even the jockey, as he gallops alongside a sea of triumphant revelry, awash with bright colour and jubilant limbs.
I love the idea that racing throws up of the juxtaposition between a majestic thoroughbred and the frenzy of a roaring crowd. I felt it important with this piece to feature the brightly coloured advertising hoardings as they create the perfect foil against which I could place Authorized. Photographs of such scenes are extremely limited: one either sees the horse in focus and the crowd blurred or vice versa. The only way to see the scene I have painted is to be present.
I have deliberately arranged the spectators, and their arms in particular, to accentuate the feeling of speed as we watch the horse. We see limbs raised high to the right of the painting but not directly behind the horse. This gives a sensation almost like a machine harvesting a crop: as Authorized passes along the crowd raised arms are felled. Then further behind the horse we can see arms raised progressively higher in a diagonal plain, as if being spat out behind the machine. A wave of celebration is left in the horse’s wake.
The small, tented shelters behind the crowd are used as a deliberate device to isolate certain jubilant gestures and project them forward. This emphasizes the rising diagonal plain over which the limbs are arranged, lending further movement to both Authorized and the Derby spectators.
The angle at which I chose to paint horse and jockey emphasizes the distance by which Authorized won the race, leaving even his shadow far behind in his wake. It also gives an opportunity to portray the jockey’s jubilant face.
Frankie Dettori later said of the race, “I had expected a dog fight but it was as smooth as an oil painting”. I had great fun portraying that outcome on canvas.
'Frankie's First' is available to buy as a limited edition print.
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