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Ulster's Derby hero Ray tips his good pal Frankie for Epsom glory

By Frank Brownlow

Ray Cochrane is a man with life in perspective. Surviving a plane crash - and saving the life of Frankie Dettori - as well as sustaining a string of racing injuries, including a fractured skull, are all factors in that.

Cochrane - who won the Derby on board Kahyasi in 1988 - even describes the fall in which he ended up getting kicked in the head by a horse, fracturing his skull, as "lucky".

Lucky in the sense that it set the Ulsterman - now agent of superstar Dettori, who rides today's Derby favourite Wings Of Desire - on the road to a glittering career on the flat.

Cochrane was a jump jockey up to that point, too heavy to comtemplate a career in flat racing. But that injury meant a stay in hospital that saw his weight plummet.

"I got into flat racing by chance - I was too big for the flat and was riding over jumps," Cochrane explained.

"But it's funny how things turn out. I had a fall and was kicked in the head by a horse, fracturing my skull. I was hospitalised and ended up losing about 10lbs.

"I managed to keep the weight off, mainly thanks to my wife Anne who knows a lot about nutrition and diet.

"These days there are nutritionists and dieticians but back then there wasn't the same expertise and it's thanks to Anne that I ate properly. She helped me manage my weight."

"Anne knew all about racing having been a jockey herself. She is the daughter of top trainer Johnny Gilbert and was the first lady jockey to ride as a professional," said the 58-year-old who is originally from Banbridge but now lives in the countryside between Newmarket - flat racing's headquarters - and Cambridge.

Cochrane - whose other Classic successes include triumphs in the Oaks and 1,000 Guineas, both in 1986 on Midway Lady, as well as Kahyasi's 1988 Irish Derby win - retired soon after that fateful plane crash.

The incident occurred in 2000 at RAF Newmarket, 52-year-old pilot Patrick Mackey losing his life. The two jockeys were both injured when the light aircraft crashed on take-off for a short flight to Goodwood racecourse.

Cochrane was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Bravery for his efforts to save Dettori.

But Cochrane modestly plays down his role.

"I helped Frankie out of the plane - it's what anyone would have done. I was the only one there to do it," he said.

"I don't regard it as saving his life. The pilot Patrick Mackey lost his life. We were devastated but obviously his family were hardest hit."

The Down man and Dettori had always been close pals and when Cochrane decided to quit the saddle, the role of becoming the Italian's agent seemed a natural fit.

"The plane crash was a factor in my retirement. I picked up a few injuries and my head was telling me it was time to call it a day," he recalls.

"Frankie and I had always been good friends. He phoned me and asked me if I wanted to become his agent.

"I've represented other jockeys over the years but now Frankie is my sole client and that's the way I want it.

"I could be representing a string of jockeys and be sitting on the phone in an office all day. But there's more to life than that.

"I have a lot of things going on. Anne and I have two dogs which we love to take for long walks.

"I play golf, I cycle and I have an allotment. I actually hurt my knee snowboarding last year and that has curtailed my cycling. We also have a motorhome that we love to head off in."

Dettori rides the favourites in the Epsom and French Derbies, Wings Of Desire in today's £1.5million showpiece and Foundation at Chantilly tomorrow.

The charismatic 45-year-old took a tumble at Leicester earlier in the week but Cochrane says Dettori is raring to go.

"Frankie is fighting fit for the Derby. Wings Of Desire has a favourite's chance. He's the form horse - and a rapidly improving horse," he said.

"Frankie has a very good chance in the French Derby too."

Dettori has had to show real character to make it back to the top, his partnership with Godolphin ending and his woes compounded by a failed drugs test leading to a six-month ban.

Cochrane said: "We all make mistakes. But he has come back strongly and his partnership with trainer John Gosden has been a big factor.

"If you ask me, Frankie is the best jockey in the world. I am sure he will go on for another four or five years.

"Frankie can pick and choose what he wants to do when he retires. He's building a new house and is also involved in breeding and the media."

Not too many agents can give clients a run for their money when it comes to sporting achievements.

But Cochrane has won the biggest races all over the world. Recalling his Derby success on Kahyasi, he said: "It was a fantastic day - I was lucky to ride for great connections. Winning the Derby is a career highlight for anyone.

"It was my first ride in the race. I knew I had a good chance. But you don't take it all in until long after it's all over. I was introduced to the Queen after the race, which was nice.

"Winning the Oaks and the 1,000 Guineas was very special too and I was lucky enough to ride Kahyasi to victory in the Irish Derby. They are all incredible days," said Cochrane, who is impressed by the way in which Ulster great AP McCoy is dealing with retirement.

He said: "You need to have direction in your life and AP has that. He has plenty on his plate although I'm sure he misses race riding.

"Nearly all jockeys do when they retire. It's a real wrench."

Ray Cochrane seems to have taken it in his stride.

Belfast Telegraph


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