Dettori case 'does not mean drugs are rife'

Newmarket is no 'den of iniquity', says racing's chaplain on fears raised by jockey's positive test

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The Independent Online

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

Yesterday, 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 and medical people, the lot. And in the end we concluded that it was exactly the same here as the average across the nation. Remember you're not talking about a monochrome town. We have two airbases just down the road, a university. Of course we have problems, the same as anywhere – but it would be very wrong to portray Newmarket as some den of iniquity."

Locking's vocation has previously embraced depressed urban communities – from the East End of London, to Glasgow, to Sheffield during the miners' strike – and he stressed the overall decency and morale among his flock. "The vast majority of people working in racing are leading normal lives, working hard, trying to make good decisions and good choices," he said. "But people are people, wherever you go. Some will cope better with stress than others."

Locking urged that an obligation of fairness to Newmarket should now be extended to its most famous resident. "Nobody knows the journey people travel," he said. "Nobody should be pointing fingers at Frankie Dettori, or anyone else. 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."

Few ever detected any flaw in Frankel, of course. Yesterday the unbeaten champion's eligibility, in his new role as a stallion, was formally measured by the announcement of his stud fee next spring: an eye-watering £125,000. On the basis that he covers around 100 mares – with the usual proviso of "no foal, no fee" – he could generate £12m in his first season at Banstead Manor.

As befits a champion whose career ultimately obtained a fairly ceremonial quality, Frankel bestrode the 22nd Cartier Awards. He became the first to win Horse of the Year in consecutive years, and first to win five awards in all. "We have been truly blessed by this horse," said Prince Khalid Abdullah's racing manager, Lord Grimthorpe. "He has touched our lives like no other."

Frankel's trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, remained too unwell to take his share of the plaudits in London. But he has always stressed the role of others in the story, and an Award of Merit was duly made to "Team Frankel", from those who raised the colt at Juddmonte Farms to some of Cecil's most trusted lieutenants at Warren Place: notably his assistant, Mike Marshall; his head girl, Dee Deacon; and Frankel's groom, Sandeep Gauravaram. Here was proper evidence of a community that could take immense pride in its life and work.

Turf account

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