Frankie Dettori poised for dramatic comeback
Frankie Dettori, having himself contributed to a miserable spiral of scandal among his professional community, finally returns to the fray at Epsom today.
The timing of his comeback – on a Classic card, and on the eve of the greatest race run on British turf – gives him every chance of extending his own sense of relief to the sport as a whole.
If nothing else, his instinct for theatricality would seem undiminished.
Dettori's six-month suspension, for a positive cocaine test at Longchamp last September, has since become a relatively trivial embarrassment for a sport convulsed.
Last month Mahmood al-Zarooni, who trained for Dettori's former employers at Godolphin, was banned for eight years after administering anabolic steroids to his horses.
Even Dettori's return retains a residual quality of controversy. Originally due back at the beginning of last week, Dettori was denied his licence pending resolution of an unspecified "glitch" or "discrepancy" – in the words of his own team – in one of numerous tests supplied to the French regulators who had banned him.
The British Horseracing Authority, bound by reciprocal arrangements, had no choice but to defer the return of his licence here.
Last night the BHA confirmed that Dettori's licence had been duly restored after "confirmation from France Galop that he has successfully fulfilled all of their criteria to be fit to ride" – 16 days after he had satisfied the BHA's own licensing committee.
That enables him to supplant Kieren Fallon on Beatrice Aurore in the first race today, and Adam Kirby on Fattsota in the second. But one of the conditions is that Dettori, 42, "may be subject to enhanced testing controls" over the next five years.
The Italian is also set to partner First Cornerstone in the Prix du Jockey-Club at Chantilly on Sunday – historically treated as the French Derby.
But the breakthrough came too late for Dettori to squeeze his way into the Epsom original, it having become increasingly fanciful that anybody might offer him a serious mount.
The Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien holds excellent prospects of winning his fifth Oaks today.
For a start, Say could build enormously on the foundations laid in maidens.
She remains totally unexposed at a mile and a half, after coasting home from just three rivals in her only start at the trip, and the sheer depth of elite middle-distance prospects at Ballydoyle makes her very presence significant.
O'Brien has a history of prompting a sudden bloom from fillies, in particular, after they have put in a fair bit of groundwork in maidens.
A case in point is his other runner. Both Say and Moth started their careers in the same maiden, at Navan last October, and finished more or less upsides in fifth and sixth.
Like Say today, Moth had contested three maidens before being fast-tracked to a Classic at Newmarket at the start of this month. As such, however – unlike Say, and nearly every other filly in the field – Moth arrives with Group One runs on the board.
The favourite, Secret Gesture, is respected but her visually stunning trial at Lingfield is hard to measure, having been achieved in bad ground at the expense of a rival who gave herself no chance of lasting home by pulling. She plainly has loads of ability but is a short price for one who must now add substance to style.
Liber Nauticus will improve for the longer trip – which is just as well, so laboured was she in her rehearsal at York. With barely a fortnight to absorb that education, she could just take a little too much organising round Epsom.