He arrived in Newmarket aged just 14, and speaking no English, now he's one of the most recognisable sporting stars in the country.
Frankie Dettori has reached many milestones throughout a distinguished career in the saddle, and he's just marked another by turning 50.
But without the help of his first employer, and fellow countryman, Luca Cumani, he may not have stuck around long enough to win more than 3,000 races.
It was with Cumani that Dettori would celebrate his first British victory aboard Lizzy Hare at Goodwood back in 1987.
Dettori added: "Luca was one of my first teachers. He was very thorough and he taught me a lot. He was very strict, but in a good way.
"He was a big influence, he moulded me well from the beginning. Eight of my tender years, which are probably the most important part of your career, were spent with him and they were great times."
And the admiration and respect from Cumani mutual.
The former trainer, who retired in 2018, paid tribute to his former charge.
"Looking back, I consider myself lucky to have had him in his formative years. Even though he was such a devil to begin with as a teenager, he always had that talent and always had the will to win that transmitted to the horses."
Cumani, explained why Dettori's has enjoyed such a long career.
"He's lasted so long because he hasn't overdone it," he said. "And it's like a horse - he's sound, mentally and physically. He's probably only chased the championship a handful of times and hasn't worn himself out chasing championships. I think he's had a charmed life and his genes were such that he has longevity.
Momentous success has followed all around the world - but for all that Dettori has achieved, he acknowledges his exploits over the past four years aboard the John Gosden-trained 11-time Group One winner Enable will take some beating.
He said: "Just like Tom Queally is remembered as Frankel's jockey, I will almost certainly be more remembered for her and what she did in winning the amount of Group Ones she did more than anything I've done on any other horse.
"It was a shame she couldn't win a record third Arc this year, but that should not take anything away from the fantastic career she had. She was the ultimate queen of the Turf."
The subject of retirement is one that Dettori has played down in recent years - and he's not thinking of hanging up his silks just yet.
He said: "Look, I'd love to win a Melbourne Cup and being a Newmarket boy the only Group One in England I've not won is the July Cup, so I would love to tick that off the list before I retire. I really don't know when I will retire, as I feel good and I'm still competitive and I ride for a great stable. I want to go on for as long as I can, that is my dream."
But as Dettori marks his half century, due to the current restrictions Dettori's celebrations will be a more muted than one would expect of the ebullient rider.