A new wildfire has threatened to take hold of a sport already busy beating down its smouldering steroids scandal. For a bureaucratic delay in Frankie Dettori's comeback from suspension, originally scheduled for Monday, was suddenly subject of fresh mystery.
The trade newspaper, Racing Post, has alleged that the delay in the approval of Dettori's French licence – duly reciprocated by the British authorities – resulted from "irregularities" in a recent sample taken from the jockey. Dettori has just served a six-month suspension, triggered by a positive dope test at Longchamp last September.
Dettori's representatives were not available for comment, but it is worth remembering that the process of restoring his licence in France – no less than its withdrawal in December – is divided between medical and licensing committees. There are therefore, evidently, many innocuous reasons for the former panel to request clarification of some "irregularity" or other.
Dettori had expected to return to riding at Leicester on Monday evening and, with the Investec Derby now only 10 days away, he is desperate for the red tape to be untangled. His legal team is anxious to inject urgency into proceedings, but the position of the authorities either side of the Channel is suggestive of an impasse. Dettori's lawyers remain eager to get back before the British Horseracing Authority, whose French counterparts meanwhile claim that they are awaiting unspecified input from the jockey.
It is not the first twist this week in Dettori's unhappy tale. On Monday, the BHA published results of comprehensive testing of horses owned by Godolphin, his employers for 18 years until last autumn. While those supervised by Saeed Bin Suroor all tested clean, another seven formerly trained by the disgraced Mahmood al-Zarooni tested positive for anabolic steroids. These included Encke, who thwarted the Triple Crown challenge of Camelot in the St Leger last September under Dettori's rival at Godolphin, Mickael Barzalona.
In a Channel 4 interview last week, Dettori admitted that Barzalona's triumph on Encke contributed to the emotional instability that prompted him to seek succour, in what he described as a moment of weakness, in cocaine. It was the very next day, in Paris, that Dettori gave a fateful sample in random testing by the French authorities.
Many will now view Encke's intrusion on history as tainted, but the BHA rejected suggestions that the colt should be stripped of the prize. He had given clean post-race samples not only at Doncaster, but also after his trial race at York.
Bin Suroor himself began this season as a nearly pitiable figure. Over the past three years he had been steadily supplanted as No 1 trainer to Godolphin by his promoted assistant. Suddenly, however, he finds himself charged with restoring the reputation of Sheikh Mohammed's elite stable, Zarooni having last month been banned for eight years. And Bin Suroor is in corresponding favour with those most likely to take a step back and anticipate how things might look, once the dust finally settles: the punters.
Today Bin Suroor was backed from 10-1 to 6-1 with Coral to win his fifth trainers' championship – and his first since 2004. He relieved the Godolphin siege on Saturday by sending out Farhh for a runaway Group One success at Newbury. Monday's results then enabled Bin Suroor to distance himself once and for all from Zarooni's rogue methods. Even as the seven new positives shockingly renewed the scandal, both the sheikh and the BHA were relieved to have a safe pair of hands for the relicensing of Moulton Paddocks.
David Stevens, spokesman for Coral, said: "Having been given the all-clear by the BHA, Bin Suroor will take charge of almost 400 horses. With such numbers at his disposal, it's not surprising some are backing him."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Mallory Heights (8.00 Kempton) Couldn't get the stamina test he needs when looking rusty round the twists and turns of Windsor and should prove more engaged this time.
No Dominion (4.20 Southwell) Has continued on the upgrade, winning his first turf race last time, and very much at home back round here.
Where the money's going
Secret Gesture is 9-4 from 5-2 with Boylesports for the Investec Oaks.