Did he jump, or was he pushed? It might be hard for even Frankie Dettori to know the difference. His split from Godolphin – formally confirmed yesterday, after many days' speculation – had been foreshadowed by his perceived disloyalty in riding Camelot for Sheikh Mohammed's greatest rivals, in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe 15 days ago. But if that approached a sackable offence, after 18 years in royal blue silks, then Dettori might well complain that his treatment in recent months had itself amounted to constructive dismissal.
Though both camps exchanged generous compliments, there was little dissembling. Simon Crisford, the Godolphin manager, admitted that "the retainer was not really working"; Dettori that his "position in the stable has changed".
The fact is that the Italian has been in a nearly untenable position since the sheikh hired Mickael Barzalona before the start of the season. Barzalona's rise had been agreeably evocative of Dettori's own precocious emergence. Doubtless the sheikh imagined the young Frenchman reaching full bloom under the avuncular tutelage of Dettori, who will be 42 in December. In giving Barzalona immediate parity, however, their boss also appears to have deceived himself that the riches Dettori has accumulated, in his service, might make personal dignity a small price to pay.
Though arguably the most accomplished rider on the planet, Dettori duly found himself obliged to share the one resource Godolphin has conspicuously lacked through many of his prime years – namely, horses capable of winning big races – with a youngster as raw as he may be brilliant. Barzalona certainly gave Encke a fine ride to turn over Camelot in the St Leger, but Dettori was so aggrieved by his treatment that he did not demur when the chance presented itself to ride the runner-up in Paris.
Having expressed public contrition to his patron after winning the 2005 Leger on Scorpion, Dettori knew he was taking a risk in once again teaming up with John Magnier and his Coolmore partners. But he hoped for greater indulgence this time. For one thing, the frigid relations between the Turf's two great superpowers had seemed to thaw somewhat; and then there was the Barzalona situation. Just as the sheikh seems to have expected too much latitude in Dettori, however, so the reverse now seemed to apply.
One way or another, he will not be retained next year. "We have had a tremendous association with Frankie," Crisford said. "However, he is looking for a fresh challenge and we felt that the retainer was not really working, so this is the best way forward."
Dettori reflected on "18 wonderful years" and 110 Group One winners for the stable. "Godolphin has been a major part of everything I have achieved in racing," he said. "I have loved every minute of it. I feel the time has come for a change. My position in the stable has changed a little bit and I need a new challenge.
"Sheikh Mohammed has been an unbelievable boss. He had the confidence to take me on board when I was young and we smashed every record together. I will be for ever grateful to him for everything he has done for me and my family."
Though Silvestre de Sousa will plainly be No 2 to Barzalona, Crisford did suggest that Dettori might yet retain a link to the stable. "We look forward to working with Frankie in the future and, hopefully, enjoying more success together," he said. "He remains a great friend. The difference next year will be that he will not be our retained jockey, and will operate as a freelance instead."
But that aspiration may be contingent on Dettori's next move. The Maktoum family and Coolmore both face an audacious new challenge on the global stage. At Europe's top yearling auction 11 days ago Magnier was thwarted by David Redvers, representing the young Qatari sheikh who sponsored the Qipco Champions' Day at Ascot on Saturday, with a bid of 2.5m guineas for a Galileo half-brother to the 2007 Derby winner Authorized. Sheikh Fahad al-Thani and his brothers are keen to retain a jockey next season, and Dettori's signature would represent another formidable statement of intent. An announcement is thought imminent.
Magnier, pragmatist as he is, may also make further use of Dettori as Joseph O'Brien, son and stable jockey of Coolmore's principal trainer, battles with the weight of his maturing physique.
One way or another, whatever the salary Dettori has forfeited, the sheikh may yet look back upon this parting of ways and recognise his as the greater loss.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Aldwick Bay (4.00 Windsor)
Won round here on soft ground in the spring.
Next best: Pearl Reward (3.50 Pontefract)
Well backed when romping away with a maiden over course and distance.Reuse content