Frankie Dettori must wait before facing tough challenge

Italian will find his racing world very different when French approve return after drugs ban

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The Independent Online

The fortitude and patience of Frankie Dettori will be tested in the short term with the news that his comeback, scheduled for Leicester tomorrow evening, was confirmed to be on hold yesterday. The rider's six-month ban for failing a dope test at Longchamp last September expires today, but he has yet to be passed fit to race by the sport's French governing body, France Galop, and the British Horseracing Authority cannot relicence him without clearance from their Gallic counterparts.

In the past two months Dettori has been serially screened for drugs in Britain, most recently on Friday, with negative returns. But after an inconclusive result to one of several tests in France last month he must face the France Galop medical committee in person.

With a French public holiday tomorrow, a timeline for his return will not be clear until Tuesday, although it is thought likely to be at least a week before the Italian can relaunch his career. The frustration of a delay may represent something of the longer-term challenges for the 42-year-old, who is not only returning to a competitive arena after a significant absence but will also operate as a freelance after a cushioned 18 years with a retainer from Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation.

One who knows what it will take is Kieren Fallon, who has successfully picked up the reins of his career at the age of 45 three years ago after lengthy drug bans of his own. "It will be tough for him," he said, "and we'll see whether or not he's got the balls to keep it going.

"It will depend on how hungry he is – this time round he can't just rock up at weekends. He'll have to put the hard miles in round the small meetings during the week.

"But he will get the rides, because he's got good contacts and he's a top-class rider. It's not like someone coming back who was still on the way up, or on the way down."

Whenever Dettori returns, a media circus will be along for the ride, particularly after his recent self-exculpatory TV interviews, in which he gave his deteriorating relationship with Godolphin as the reason he turned to cocaine. And then it will be head-down, get-on-with-the-job time, and although the Italian will be assured of a welcome back into the weighing room, it will not be an entirely uncritical one.

"I like Frankie, most of us do," Fallon added, "and it will be good to have him back, though from a selfish point of view he'll make it all the more competitive, in races and in trying to get rides, because he's good. But I am disappointed in him, in the way he has seemed to be blaming others for his troubles, everyone but himself. He should have kept his mouth shut and let his riding do the talking. He didn't have to say all that stuff and I thought he was cleverer than that."

The postponement of his comeback may deprive Dettori of a mount in the Derby in 13 days' time; although he has been riding behind the scenes on a regular basis, including for Aidan O'Brien at Coolmore, less than a week in the saddle in anger is little preparation for the physical and mental sharpness needed for the challenge of Epsom, even for an innate talent such as his. And yesterday's principal result will have brought little joy, either, though it might just prove a spur.

With excruciating symmetry, the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury was won in impressive style by the Godolphin candidate Farhh, whom Dettori had ridden into second place at Longchamp the day he fell foul of the French drugs test.

After Godolphin's own, more serious, drugs scandal, Farhh provided the sheikh's operation with a most welcome boost. The five-year-old is trained by the blues' long-serving Saeed Bin Suroor, who has resumed as the No 1 man after last year being pushed towards the margins, along with Dettori, by the fast-tracking of now-disgraced Mahmood al-Zarooni, banned for eight years after admitting administering forbidden steroids to his charges.

Farhh, ridden by Silvestre de Sousa, produced a classy surge through the final two furlongs, coming home four lengths clear of 80-1 outsider Sovereign Debt, with the O'Brien-trained favourite Declaration Of War a disappointing fifth.

It was a first Group One victory for Farhh after four successive top-level runner-up spots last year, including two trouncings by Frankel. Royal Ascot now beckons, either remaining at yesterday's mile to face the Dubai World Cup hero Animal Kingdom in the Queen Anne Stakes or reverting to 10 furlongs for a clash with last year's Derby winner, Camelot, in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes.