Dettori dilemma leaves racing in a crisis of credibility

THE race of the week, it was also one of the best contests witnessed at Ascot since the duel between Grundy and Bustino in 1975, but should Frankie Dettori – the face of Flat racing – have been disqualified after ‘winning’ the Prince of Wales’s Stakes with one of his greatest rides?

The Italian celebrated victory on Rewilding with a flying dismount after reeling in the long-time leader So You Think, but the stewards later banned him for nine days for misuse of the whip – a decision not announced until two hours after the race.

The British Horseracing Authority must now address this recurring issue without delay – it must bring forward the review planned for the autumn. Why? The winning jockey in this year’s Grand National, Epsom Derby, Prince of Wales’s Stakes and Ascot Gold Cup, four premier races shown by the BBC, had all committed whip offences that resulted in bans of varying length.

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Yet the Dettori dilemma shows that this is now a crisis of credibility. The stewards say he hit Rewilding 24 times in the final two furlongs when BHA guidelines stipulate that a horse can only be struck 13 times in the last quarter-mile.

However, analysis of the ride shows Dettori was, on many occasions, only ‘flicking’ his mount with his air-conditioned whip before several ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ blows close home. His rival, Ryan Moore, was actually striking So You Think far harder, but gave his charge time to respond – as stated in the rules – and kept within the letter of the law.

With only a neck separating the two horses, it could be argued that Rewilding should have been disqualified because the infringements materially altered the outcome. Yet it was too late – the bookmakers had already paid out by the time the ban was confirmed.

The counter-argument is that disqualifying such horses punishes punters and connections, though, in this instance, Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation could have foregone the £277,000 first prize (unlike many owners).

There are also even bigger stakes at play. As former champion jockey Willie Carson, the BBC’s racing pundit, observed, Rewilding’s victory increases his long-term stud value by several million pounds. “Frankie was doing his job for Godolphin,” he said.

Yet, had Dettori not broken the rules, he would not have won. And that is why the issue is one of public perception about the whip and also the whole sport’s wider credibility.

Boxing evolved when world championship bouts were reduced in length from 15 to 12 rounds on welfare grounds, and racing must do likewise.

It needs transparent rules, and instant decisions, while also giving jockeys scope to use the whip, where necessary, to avoid impeding a rival. In short, this means longer bans for instances of whip misuse – with those sanctions increased dramatically for each subsequent offence. To those who say it will not work, just look at AP McCoy, the 16-times champion National Hunt jockey. A serial offender in his youth until he was sent to a BHA riding school for corrective training, he is rarely, if ever, banned – despite being lauded as a ‘never say die’ rider. He sticks to them because he knows every suspension will cost him winners – and that is what he was born to do.

It is time that the BHA took note of his example before racing loses even more ground in its very own Credibility Stakes.