A bright Saturday afternoon at Ascot 20 years ago today would go down in horse racing history and send the UK betting industry into a state of near meltdown.
September 28th, 1996, would prove a defining day in the blossoming career of 25-year-old Italian jockey Frankie Dettori – the day of his unforgettable "Magnificent Seven".
Already making a name for himself in the horse racing world, the popular and effervescent Italian had a mount in all seven of the races that day, which together made up Ascot's Festival of British Racing. Some were quality horses and the bookies' favourite, but others were considered outclassed by stronger rivals in their particular race.
Against all the odds, Dettori would ride each of his mounts to victory, winning all seven fixtures on the day's race card to notch up what would become known as his "Magnificent Seven". Twenty years on he still sees it as the outstanding accomplishment of his record-breaking career, but for the bookies it was an all-out catastrophe.
Many punters routinely put their money on their favourite jockey, rather than "studying the form" to back particular horses in races where they should do well. Gambling on consistently successful jockeys could prove a winning formula, though the odds were often short and the winnings modest but regular.
Not so on that day, when punters who had put their money on Dettori reeled in the winnings race after race, and there were plenty of them backing the up-and-coming jockey. The really big winners had placed accumulator bets on Dettori's rides, combining their wager on four or more selections, but only paying out if they were all winners. The risk is much higher as the entire bet is lost if just a single selection fails, but the rewards are much higher if all the selections are winners.
The combined odds of Dettori winning all seven races were almost 236,000-to-one for anyone taking advantage of the odds that morning. One lucky punter reportedly won more than £500,000 from his accumulator bet, while it was estimated that the overall bookies' losses from the Magnificent Seven topped £40 million.
Dettori's first ride, in the 2pm Cumberland Lodge Stakes, was the favourite and won as expected, but his second, 35 minutes later, was a 12-1 long shot which won despite the odds. After winning the big money Queen Elizabeth II Stakes aboard Mark of Esteem, the excitement began to build.
Decorated Hero carried Dettori to his fourth win at a modest 7-1, while Fatefully claimed a narrow victory in the fifth race. By now excitement at the race course was reaching fever pitch and when Dettori claimed his sixth win on joint favourite Lochangel, the BBC hastily switched its planned "Grandstand" coverage to live action from Ascot for the seventh and final race.
Although lacking in experience Dettori's mount, Fujiyama Crest, started as 2-1 favourite, but was carrying top weight against a quality field. Leading from the off, both punters and commentators feared the hose would fade in the final furlongs but he narrowly held out to cross the line in front and seal Dettori's place in history.
Overjoyed, the Italian performed his trademark flying dismount, leaping from the saddle to the rapturous cheers of the crowd. A bronze statue outside Ascot now immortalises that history-making moment.
Dettori went on to win almost all of flat racing's greatest prizes and become an in-demand celebrity widely known for his bubbly personality, sharp dress sense and unmistakeable accent. At 45 he is still riding successfully, notching up his 3,000th winner last month.
Five years after his Magnificent Seven he heard that Fujiyama Crest, the horse which carried him across the line for the seventh time, was going to the sales as an eight-year-old approaching the end of his racing career. Dettori bought him and immediately retired him, Fujiyama Crest becoming a much-loved family pet at the Dettoris' home in Newmarket. He died there peacefully in his paddock last year at the grand old age of 23.