A REMORSEFUL Frankie Dettori has vowed to rebuild his shattered career after being handed a six-month ban for a drugs violation which has left his reputation in tatters.
He admitted that he had “let down” racing and “that his privileged position brings with it responsibility” after French stewards imposed the suspension following the 41-year-old’s positive test in September for a banned substance during a random examination.
Even though cocaine has been widely reported to be the drug in question, several top trainers gave their backing last night to the charismatic Italian, the face of racing and three-time champion jockey, who will be eligible to return to the saddle on May 20 next year.
It will give the 41-year-old less than two weeks to regain his race sharpness before the Epsom Derby, a celebrated race that he famously won at the 15th attempt in 2007 aboard the gutsy Authorized.
Dettori, whose international career has seen him win more than 500 Group races at the highest level and be described as the world’s best jockey by Lester Piggott, also faces the challenge of riding as a ‘freelance’ next season after abruptly ending his longstanding association with Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation six weeks ago.
Dettori’s backers included leading Middleham trainer Mark Johnston who has enjoyed a long association with the jockey, stretching back to top-class horses like Mister Baileys and Double Trigger in the early 1990s.
“It’s obviously all very sad and I feel very sorry for Frankie, who has taken it on the chin,” said Johnston. “I’m sure he is enduring a considerable amount of shame and personal embarrassment, but at the same time I’m sure he will bounce back.”
Asked if he would consider using Dettori again, Johnston said: “Absolutely.”
Dettori was not present in Paris yesterday when France-Galop confirmed the ban which resulted from the positive test taken at Longchamp on September 16 just 24 hours after the jockey had been overlooked by Godolphin for the winning ride aboard Encke in the Ladbrokes St Leger.
His legal team had made it strenuously clear at previous hearings that the substance in question was not a performance-enhancing drug – the rider had received a police caution in 1993 for cocaine possession – and the imposition of the six-month suspension was regarded as a formality. It has been backdated to November 20 when the jockey first admitted his culpability to the French racing authorities.
However, it still means Dettori will miss a number of high-profile meetings – including the Dubai World Cup, Newmarket’s Guineas meeting and York’s prestigious Dante meeting in early May.
The jockey has not commented publicly on his downfall but his solicitor Christopher Stewart-Moore said: “I have spoken to Frankie since the announcement was made and he has told me he fully accepts France Galop’s decision.
“He also accepts that he has let down the sport he loves and all those associated with it, as well as the wider public. But most of all, and this is his greatest regret, he has let down his wife and children.”
Stewart-Moore said his client had received “a sympathetic hearing” before adding: “He is enormously grateful for the opportunities that he has been given by owners and trainers over the years, and for the support of his many fans.
“Racing has been good to Frankie and he knows that his privileged position brings with it responsibility.
“For this reason he is determined to rebuild his reputation when he returns to the saddle.
“Frankie could make excuses. He has, after all, regularly been tested for prohibited substances throughout his career.
“He is clear, however, that the responsibility for his current situation lies squarely with him,” he added.
“From the start of France Galop’s inquiry he has acknowledged to them he has made a mistake and that the fault was his.”
Other trainers backing Dettori include Luca Cumani who gave Dettori his first job in British racing in 1985 before the Italian gained a big-race reputation that saw him carry the Olympic torch into the Ascot winner’s enclosure earlier this year – the course where he secured his place in sporting immortality in 1996 after completing his ‘magnificent seven’.
“I’m sad that this has happened and hope it doesn’t happen again. He is the best jockey that has been around for quite a while and a great ambassador for the sport,” said Cumani. “He has done a world of good to the sport and let’s hope he can put this behind him quickly and go back to where he was.”
This support was re-enforced by the Professional Jockeys Association whose chief executive Paul Struthers stressed the continuing importance of random testing for drugs and alcohol.
However he said that the PJA would be looking at the mental well-being of its members amid concerns that travel and dieting were taking their toll on jockeys who then have to spend hours in the sauna on raceday.
“As in any walk of life jockeys will make mistakes. Frankie Dettori has made such a mistake and accepted the consequences of it,” said Struthers.
“The wider issue of jockeys’ mental well-being is something the PJA cares passionately about. As well as all the normal pressures that other sportsmen and women have to contend with, jockeys have the added pressures of massively reduced calorific intake and are constantly at very real risk of serious injury.
“We will be meeting early next year to discuss the issue with a view to doing more to raise awareness of the issues and the support that is available.”