Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Racing’s problems go way beyond Frankie Dettori

Frankie Dettori

There was no mistaking the spectre at the feast, when the Flat racing elite convened for the Cartier Awards.

Those who had gathered to salute an equine paragon, Frankel, instead found themselves digesting a sudden humiliation for the most celebrated member of their own community.

The discovery that Frankie Dettori had failed a drugs test — not for a performance-enhancing drug, his solicitor Christopher Stewart-Moore said yesterday — at Longchamp in September, left his peers agog and aghast.

Many sensibly deferred their own judgement until learning that of the French racing authorities, who seem likely to give Dettori (pictured) a worldwide six-month ban when he attends a hearing next week.

But whatever pity or irritation is being reserved for the sport's falling idol, others were already prepared to testify that Dettori's aberration — if proven — would only lend a sensational veneer to chronic problems in the less glamorous reaches of the racing workforce.

Kieren Fallon, after himself serving bans of six and 18 months for consecutive positive tests in France, notoriously depicted Newmarket as a hotbed of drug abuse.

Guests at Tuesday’s Cartier Awards added their own, anecdotal evidence of stable staff trapped between addiction and low wages; of toxic compounds to cheapen cocaine; of depression and suicides.

However, these tales were placed in due perspective by a man devoted to healing any such malaise in the headquarters of the British Turf.

Graham Locking, chaplain to its horseracing community, is vexed by lurid distortion of Newmarket's image.

“A few years ago, we got together everyone who might be able to help establish whether incidence of alcoholism and drug-taking was worse in racing,” Rev Locking said.

“The Samaritans, the police, Racing Welfare, drug rehabilitation, the lot. And in the end we concluded that it was exactly the same here as the average across the nation.

“Of course we have problems but it would be very wrong to portray Newmarket as some den of iniquity. The vast majority of people working in racing are leading normal lives, working hard,” he said.

Rev Locking urged that an obligation of fairness to Newmarket should now be extended to its most famous resident.

“Nobody should be pointing fingers at Frankie Dettori,” he said.

“It's the same as with Tiger Woods, it's the tall poppy syndrome.

“People are set up as heroes, but as soon as they are shown to be human, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.”

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