Focused Frankie Dettori will take latest setback in stride
Anyone hastening to conclusions about the latest melodrama in the life of Frankie Dettori would not only prejudge the details and outcome of the hearing he must face in France next week.
They might also find themselves mistaking the very substance of his character. For whatever frailties may be suggested by his positive test for a banned substance at Longchamp in September, there is a good deal more to Dettori than meets the eye.
Not that many people could ever find him deficient, in that effusive and engaging veneer.
Dettori himself has traded heavily upon it, with his pizza brands and restaurants. It would be wrong, however, suddenly to treat those extrovert flourishes as merely some glitzy carapace to a vulnerable, flaky creature.
Dettori had four rides at Longchamp on September 16, a day of major trials for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe meeting the following month.
The Italian partnered Marco Botti's Joshua Tree to finish third in the Qatar Prix Foy, while the John Hammond-trained Sarah Lynx trailed home last in the Prix Vermeille.
He was then beaten just a head into second on Godolphin's Farhh in the Prix du Moulin and was third for his former employers on Willing Foe in the Prix Gladiateur.
Even if Dettori has tested positive to the sort of stimulus that might appeal to a man unnerved by some unfamiliar challenge — and his career, unmistakably, was already at a crossroads before yesterday’s news — then it would be wise to resist trite assumptions about the way he might deal with the indignities that menace him now.
Good grief, this is a man who was lucky to escape with his life in a plane crash in 2000. His pilot was not so lucky. Those of us who visited his hospital bed could see that the experience would remain ingrained within Dettori, long after all his external scars had healed.
Sure enough, he has since gloried in the breadth of perspective provided by five children.
From the moment of arrival in Britain, moreover, he has instinctively surrounded himself with sage and seasoned counsel. There was Barney Curley, the Irish gambler who counts Frankel’s jockey, Tom Queally, among several other elite riders he has mentored. There was John Gosden, who has just won his first championship but has long been admired, not just as a trainer, but also as an intelligent, humane hand for any shoulder that senses a burden.
Sheikh Mohammed too would have been cherished by Dettori for more than the princely retainer he has received for the past two decades.
Disenchantment, admittedly, seems to have fatally infected this last relationship. Dettori was affronted by the promotion of young Mickael Barzalona, hired to join the Godolphin team this year, to immediate parity.
But precisely the way Dettori squared up to that challenge augurs well for his future. For he resolved that even the most lavish salary would not justify the surrender of his self-respect: he duly accepted the ride on Camelot, owned by the Sheikh’s longstanding rivals at Coolmore, in the Arc; and, having made that calculated gesture, he agreed last month that the time had come to go their separate ways.
Whatever period he may have squandered, as he contemplates a possible six-month ban, at 41 he can extend his pomp for a few years yet.
He remains arguably the most accomplished rider on the planet, harnessing experience to a physique still to betray the passage of time.
As such, the professional community — puzzled by his recent treatment, and driven by a common imperative of winning races — would seem guaranteed to indulge Dettori with opportunities on his return.
And those who know the true bedrock of all the laughter, all the flying dismounts, who know his brooding pride and determination, will expect only one of the sport’s big players to be angered by this humiliation: Dettori himself. Be assured, he will not want to finish it like this.
Frankel has been named Cartier Horse Of The Year for the second time at an awards ceremony in London.
Owned and bred by Prince Khalid Abdullah, Frankel is now standing at the Prince's Banstead Manor stud in Newmarket.
Trainer Sir Henry Cecil said: “All of us at Warren Place are thrilled that Frankel's achievements this year have been recognised.”