Since agreeing to part company, last autumn, Frankie Dettori and Godolphin have each been tainted by unexpected scandal. Both, however, are now hoping for a fresh start. Next Monday, Dettori returns from a six-month drugs ban for his first freelance mounts following nearly two decades with Godolphin. In the meantime, however, Sheikh Mohammed’s elite stable – rocked by an eight-year suspension for the trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni, over the administration of anabolic steroids – is itself beginning to stir back into life. Saeed bin Suroor, the trainer who had been leapfrogged by Zarooni prior to his former assistant’s disgrace, hopes to resume business as usual at Newbury on Saturday by winning the JLT Lockinge Stakes for a fifth time.
But the identity of his runner will itself heighten a poignant sense that things may never be quite the same again, either for Dettori or for the sheikh. For the last time Farhh was seen on a racecourse was the day he finished second to Moonlight Cloud at Longchamp last September. And that was also the day Dettori tested positive for a banned substance, thought to be cocaine, in random sampling by the French authorities.
His former boss could never have imagined that Dettori’s return might relieve him from an embarrassment of his own. As it is, the sheikh’s team remains so sensitive to the fallout from Zarooni’s downfall that Bin Suroor was only made available to the press yesterday on the understanding that questions would be confined to Farhh’s return.
Bin Suroor did sound impatient to get his stable rolling again, having mustered not even a dozen runners – and as yet no winners – since returning to Newmarket from Dubai. “Last week and Sunday most of our horses worked really well,” he said. “Eighty-five per cent are fit and ready to run. Soon you will see more runners.”
His own string has been tested by the British Horseracing Authority and he must await the results before also assuming temporary charge of Zarooni’s stable. Morale would be enormously improved by success for Farhh on Saturday or Secret Number in the Betfred Dante Stakes at York on Thursday. Bin Suroor also has Hanseatic lining up for a valuable prize in Singapore on Sunday.
“Secret Numbers worked really nicely yesterday,” Bin Suroor said. “He came from far behind when he was third in the UAE Derby and I think a mile and a quarter at York will suit him. A mile and a half will be his best trip and we will see about the Derby after York.”
Dettori’s place on Farhh will be taken by Silvestre De Sousa. “He has ridden him in the morning many times,” Bin Suroor said. “I am sure Farhh will need the race. He had a small chip in his ankle after he ran in France and needed some small surgery. But his last piece of work was really good and he seems happy and fresh. He ran twice behind Frankel last year, but he showed his class and I hope he can improve this year.”