Don't write off Dettori yet - he will fight to finish on his own terms

Positive test for a banned substance and possible ban unlikely to hasten great jockey's retirement

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The Independent Online

Anyone hastening to conclusions about the latest melodrama in the life of Frankie Dettori would not only prejudge the details and outcome of the hearing he must face in France next week, after it was revealed yesterday that he is subject to an inquiry by the medical committee of France, Galop, after a positive test at Longchamp.

They might also find themselves mistaking the very substance of his character. For whatever frailties may be suggested by his positive test for a banned substance at Longchamp in September, there is a good deal more to Dettori than meets the eye.

Not that many people could ever find him deficient, in that effusive and engaging veneer. Dettori himself has traded heavily upon it, with his pizza brands and restaurants. It would be wrong, however, suddenly to treat those extrovert flourishes as merely some glitzy carapace to a vulnerable, flaky creature. Even if Dettori has tested positive to the sort of stimulus that might appeal to a man unnerved by some unfamiliar challenge – and his career, unmistakably, was already at a crossroads before yesterday's news – then it would be wise to resist trite assumptions about the way he might deal with the indignities that menace him now.

Good grief, this is a man who was lucky to escape with his life in a plane crash in 2000. His pilot was not so lucky. Those of us who visited his hospital bed could see that the experience would remain ingrained within Dettori, long after all his external scars had healed. Sure enough, he has since gloried in the breadth of perspective provided by five children.

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From the moment of arrival in Britain, moreover, he has instinctively surrounded himself with sage and seasoned counsel. There was Barney Curley, the Irish gambler who counts Frankel's jockey, Tom Queally, among several other elite riders he has mentored. There was John Gosden, who has just won his first championship but has long been admired, not just as a trainer, but also as an intelligent, humane hand for any shoulder that senses a burden. Even Sheikh Mohammed, with his propensity for inspiring axiom, would have been cherished by Dettori for rather more than the princely retainer he has received for the past two decades.

Disenchantment, admittedly, seems to have fatally infected this last relationship. Dettori was affronted by the promotion of young Mickael Barzalona, hired to join the Godolphin team this year, to immediate parity. But precisely the way Dettori squared up to that challenge augurs well for his future. For he resolved that even the most lavish salary would not justify the surrender of his self-respect: he duly accepted the ride on Camelot, owned by the Sheikh's longstanding rivals at Coolmore, in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe; and, having made that calculated gesture, he agreed last month that the time had come to go their separate ways.

There is an argument that Dettori wasted some of his best years at Godolphin, which has struggled to produce top-class horses in recent seasons. Whatever further period he may now have squandered on his own account, as he contemplates a possible six-month ban, at 41 he can extend his pomp for a few years yet. He remains arguably the most accomplished rider on the planet, harnessing unrivalled experience to a physique still to betray the passage of time.

As such, the professional community – puzzled by his recent treatment, and driven by a common imperative of winning races – would seem guaranteed to indulge Dettori with opportunities on his return from any ban.

And those who know the true bedrock of all the laughter, all the flying dismounts; who know his brooding pride and determination, will expect only one of the sport's big players to be angered by this humiliation: Dettori himself. Be assured, he will not want to finish it like this.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Captain Sunshine (2.10 Exeter) Caught the eye on his return, a valuable tutorial for one still working on his hurdling. Bred to relish the extra distance.

Next best

Irish Jugger (12.20 Southwell) Has a good record round here and looked back to his best for his new stable on his latest visit last week.

One to watch

Shahzan (Roger Varian) remains lightly raced and again looked equal to his rating when third at Lingfield last week, having to make up ground against a quickening pace.