The Last Word: Please will the disease of sleaze ride out of the arena

The only remedy for despair is to remember darkest clouds blow through

Sometimes a sport wakes up with a thumping hangover, bleared images sliding between the throb of its temples, and asks itself: “Did I really make that crack about fried chicken?” But everything tends to be OK after an aspirin or two – after an Angel Cabrera, say, or a Bubba Watson.

Even IPL disease typically requires only a five-day course of Test cricket (just add water). But sometimes a sport is diagnosed in clinical depression: so immersed in darkness that it feels immured.

For British horseracing, this is supposed to be the most invigorating week of the year. Next Saturday, it welcomes a lustrous favourite for the Investec Derby in Dawn Approach. But seldom has its professional community seemed in such urgent need of succour. Every day seems to bring a new betrayal.

This week the Mahmood al-Zarooni scandal was exacerbated by news that another seven horses supervised by the disgraced Godolphin trainer had tested positive for anabolic steroids. These included Encke, who won the St Leger last September – which success, under young Mickael Barzalona, meanwhile plunged Frankie Dettori into such reckless envy he failed a drugs test in France the very next day.

In turn, however, Dettori’s current difficulties in retrieving his licence pale in comparison with those facing another top jockey. On Wednesday, Eddie Ahern, one of the most gifted riders of their generation, was banned for 10 years – a prohibition from which, at the age of 35, there is no sensible prospect of a comeback – for corruption. Ahern is trying to fund an appeal against an airy conclusion that it was “inconceivable” for his riding to have vindicated apparently toxic wagers without some reward. Whether or not Ahern can find a way out of his personal inferno, however, it is imperative for his sport not to lose faith in its redemptive properties.

Last Saturday, even in dismantling one fairy tale, America furnished another to rebuke every instinct towards discouragement. As the Kentucky Derby winner floundered into fourth in the Preakness Stakes, he resembled a dissolving mirage. Orb had seemed a genuine Triple Crown candidate but could not even get past the second leg. For a 35th year running, the real world had unsparingly intruded.

Yet that same, ruthless world had reserved little more than condescension for two veterans who forlornly failed to recognise that their time was long up. During the past decade or so, European reporters at the Breeders’ Cup have been poignantly struck to see their local counterparts rush past the barn housing the few horses nowadays entrusted to Wayne Lukas. Instead, they assembled outside the stables of younger, more fashionable trainers – many of whom had first learnt their trade under Lukas.

Nor did it feel right to see one of the greatest jockeys of all time stuck among those asking the questions. True, Gary Stevens still had glamour. Having more than held his own against Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges in Seabiscuit, he took a role in the HBO racing drama, Luck. But few imagined his dignity could also survive a sudden return last winter, at 50 and after a seven-year retirement, to the real thing. Sure enough, Stevens arrived at Pimlico last Saturday without a winner since 26 April.

At least Lukas, now 77, had meanwhile given him a Derby ride. Oxbow was an outsider, inevitably, but photographs of the two men in training during Derby week moistened eyes even across the ocean. Stevens seemed to be reprising his role as George “The Iceman” Woolf, in a brown leather jacket; and Lukas, albeit this time lacking one trademark – the  10-gallon hat – did wear the frilled chaps as he rode alongside on a big, white-faced hack. And Oxbow ran well: sixth of 19. Lukas resolved to pursue Orb to the Preakness, and sat his old bones in the horse lorry from Louisville for 12 hours.

This time, the younger jockeys were naïve enough to allow Stevens to set the pace. Turning for home, Stevens thrust the gears from second to fifth, and sewed up his ninth Triple Crown race. For Lukas, though a first since the 2000 Belmont, it was a record-breaking 14th – taking him past the great “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons.

Having struggled as a jockey, in 1900 Fitzsimmons was told by his mother-in-law that she had secured him a steady job on a Philadelphia tram. On his way to his first shift, he ran into a friend who was working for a trainer and was offered a job in the barn. Looking back, Fitzsimmons said: “You don’t think I’d have lived 80 years driving one of those things, do you?”

He finally retired at 88. With over a decade in hand, Lukas is now rolling on to the Belmont Stakes – a tonic for everyone who has ever been written off, whether for youthful misjudgement or the wrinkles of age. For sport, like people, has only one remedy against despair. And that is to remember that even the darkest clouds eventually blow through.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit