Photo: Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)
An exuberant individual whom carried the weight of British racing on his shoulders, nationally and internationally, Frankie Dettori is now building up to his big return to race riding after a six month international ban imposed on him by France Galop, the regulatory body for French racing.
The view from the majority within the industry is clear; Dettori's return is a blessing, a confidence boost whilst the continued investigations into the administration of prohibited substances to thoroughbreds within the Newmarket area continues. However, to state that racing badly needs Dettori to return, to ride the big race winners, and to propel himself back amongst racing's elite and onto the front pages of publications, for the right reasons, is one which may not be as emphatically required as many believe.
In the public eye, Dettori is, and will most probably always be, the one icon of the sport that will draw most attention. The most recognisable face in racing who will always be known for riding seven winners in a row, going through the card at Ascot on 28th September 1996, and breaking the hearts and purses of many a bookmaker. His emphatic celebration, the flying dismount, is one which many a racegoer enjoy, cheering on Dettori purely in the hope that they will get to see the dismount on the day that they have attended a racecourse, no matter how often they attend.
Whatever the reason, the intake of cocaine by the man whom British racing advertised, the poster boy for the sport, is one that has inflicted negativity onto the sport at a time at which racing hoped that the sport would continue to improve it's public perception after the enthralling, whirlwind presence of Frankel, Dettori's failed drugs test was, to all intensive purposes, a negative impact that the British tranche of the sport could readily have done without.
The usage of cocaine in the United Kingdom has steadily increased since the 1990s, with a recent study by the Home Office uncovering that 2.2% of the British population are using powder cocaine, an alarming percentage that indicates 700,000 people use the Class A drug with varying frequencies. On research, many believe that the increased levels of usage within the public eye by both celebrities and sportsmen alike have given the impression that the taking of prohibited drugs is acceptable, glamorous and an attribute of the celebrity lifestyle.
The British Horse Racing Authority, and it's associates, are now in the midst of a long-term aim to enhance the public perception of a sport tarnished in the past by a multitude of allegations relating to various issues within the sport. As Dettori readies to return, they are faced with a decision - how marketable is British racing to outsiders with the Italian at the forefront of their campaigns?
It is with regret that Dettori will forever be pigeonholed alongside the others failed varying drugs tests in their respective sports over the years, despite the quantity or type of drug. The public perception of drugs is clear and in a sport which requires a role model for the aspiring jockeys of tomorrow to look up to, is Dettori the right man after the moment of madness.
There is no mistaking the exuberance and excitement that Dettori can exhume on the racetrack, a cavernous amount of international glories substantiate that, but the time for Dettori to relinquish his position at the forefront of our publicity is seemingly a question that needs careful consideration. Everyone deserves a second chance, there is no denying that, and on a broad international scale within racing's family and familiars the initial unease and sense of doubt will likely subside, yet the explosive statements that Dettori has made as he warms up his saddle for his return to race riding leaves little to be desired amongst a sense of confusion.
During an interview broadcast last week, Dettori is clear that he believes that Mahmood Al Zarooni, and his actions surrounding the Godolphin drug scandal, has tarnished his own career. The recent investigations have clearly rocked the very foundations of the Godolphin operation, yet whether it is true and fair to say that this has extended to the tarnishing of a previous retained jockey leaves little to be desired. In two years, Dettori partnered Mahmood Al Zarooni-trained horses to many successes, most notably aboard Blue Bunting and the ill-fated Rewilding, yet the numbers of horses which Dettori rode for Al Zarooni is exceptionally low compared to the numbers he rode for Saeed bin Suroor during a phase at which Bin Suroor, himself, was at a stage of uncharacteristically average performance with his string. An attempt to build bridges with his benefactor of nineteen years, Sheikh Mohammed, was to fail when Dettori attended Dubai during it's racing carnival in a bid to meet with the constitutional monarch of Dubai. Whether it was a case of refusal or that Sheikh Mohammed was too busy to meet with Dettori, the Italian is adamant that it was more a case of the monarch being 'too busy' than that he flatly refused. However, Sheikh Mohammed's strong views on the issue of prohibited substances has long been detailed in the past and it would be folly to ignore that the Sheikh may have refused to meet with Dettori.
To state that Al Zarooni ruined the career of Dettori is bold, but to state that the capitulation of the reputation, albeit temporarily, of the Godolphin operation was done no harm by the failed drugs tests of it's publicly-renowned retained jockey would be even bolder. It is a question that remains unanswered, yet one that holds obvious intrigue, does Sheikh Mohammed believe that Dettori, himself, tarnished the reputation of his business with his own failed drugs test?
Dettori's returning monologue was clear; He is sorry for the hurt that he may have caused his family, embarrassed by the moment of weakness which - he states - was brought on by a situation at Godolphin that saw him fall from grace to become part of a pool of retained jockeys. However, Dettori does not publicly accept his responsibilities. The campaign is clear; For Dettori to re-engage with the masses of outsiders in the public that do not religiously follow the sport of kings, he must make a bold move, a move which sees him publicly back the assistance of drug rehabilitation amongst the masses rather than laugh off the fact that his father believed he should be admitted to a drug rehabilitation clinic for his moment of madness.
To Dettori, he is the Lance Armstrong of competitive equine-related sport. A comparison which, upon relating to the hierarchical aspect of the elite competitors of a sport, is an understandable comparison from Dettori. Yet Armstrong was seen as a calculated individual, a man who formed part of one of the greatest deceits in competitive sport of all time and despite the negative impact that Dettori's actions had on the sport publicly, his actions were not to enhance his performance or on the very scale of Armstrong.
Despite the recent occurrences, Dettori is yet to publicly state that his usage of powder cocaine is one that he will never return to, and whether that is a realistic proposition or not that must be of a concern on a day on which an irregularity in a second test from Dettori threatens to further delay his return. A man eager to get back race riding, to the point that his frustrations at the delays are clear in the public eye, it is also of concern that Dettori is seemingly of the belief that his fifteen minute interview is all that needs to be said. No more, no less.
Dettori's return is one that is welcome, one that is seen as the return of an incredibly able jockey into the weighing room, but also one that must be approached with caution and equality. Dettori's moment of weakness was an unacceptable act of selfishness and one which brought his sport into disrepute, for him to return as the poster boy for the sport would provide racing with an even greater public relations challenge than many that have gone before.