Frankie Dettori will be back in action at Epsom on Friday, having finally extricated himself from the restraining grip of French bureaucracy, 12 days after the end of his six-month ban for a cocaine positive.
The jockey immediately acquired rides in the opening two races on Friday's card, displacing others who had been booked on Wednesday when he was ineligible, a clear sign that the sport's professionals will happily make room once more for the 42-year-old.
"I think what has happened has happened," said Ed Dunlop, who will be the first trainer to give Dettori a leg up, on Beatrice Aurore in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes, a Group Three contest. "Now racing needs him back and we need some positive stuff, with Frankie jumping out of the saddle occasionally. He's been the best jockey in the world for many years. He's ridden work for me the last two months, he's very hungry to get going again and I'm sure everyone'll welcome him back."
Asked how much work he plans to put Dettori's way, Dunlop said: "I think that'll come down to how popular Frankie is. He's supposedly freelance but he's been riding work for every trainer in Britain, Ireland and France. Of course he will be [popular], why shouldn't he be?"
On one view Epsom's undulations and awkward contours will pose a serious test for a jockey who has had no competitive experience for more than six months. Dettori will be back in the saddle less than 24 hours after learning he would finally be cleared to ride and, after a fortnight of administrative wrangling in Paris, it seems fair to ask how focused he will be.
Dunlop has limited patience for such concerns. "Yes, yes, yes, [but] he's a jockey, he's ready to go. He's had some blips. I think you're asking too many deep and intellectual and unnecessary questions. We want to welcome him back, that's all you need to write. Someone's got to give him his first ride and it happens to be me."
Kieren Fallon's name had been down for the ride on Beatrice Aurore until Dettori became available and the Italian has also taken a ride from Adam Kirby on Fattsota in the second race, a handicap. Plainly he has stepped on some toes in order to make his comeback, though Dunlop said it was always the plan for Dettori to ride his horse if he became available.
At least two jockeys here on Thursday night smiled at the mention of his name. Hayley Turner called him "a breath of fresh air" and therefore positive for the sport, while his friend Olivier Peslier, who won a Group Two here, appeared delighted.
"I'm very happy for myself and I think it is also good for the public," the Frenchman said. "I hope he wins a lot of races." For the immediate future it appears Dettori's prospects are limited. He is expected to take part in only two races on Friday and his agent, Ray Cochrane, said he would have none on Saturday.
Dettori will therefore miss both Classic races at Epsom, Friday's Oaks and Saturday's Derby, which had been the focus for his hastened return. Oddly his first chance in a Group One race will come in France, where his positive test last September pitched him into the subsequent nightmare of negative publicity and enforced idleness. He will ride First Cornerstone for the trainer Andy Oliver in Sunday's French Derby, a race he has won three times, most recently with a tactically excellent ride on Lawman in 2007. "We thought we'd like a jockey with local knowledge and race knowledge and who better could you get than Frankie Dettori?" Oliver said.
Thursday's news was broken by Dettori's agent in France, Herve Naggar, who announced that all tests taken by the jockey over the last 10 days had proved free of prohibited substances. The British Horseracing Authority confirmed he had been relicensed shortly afterwards.
One question remains: what was the reported "irregularity" in a test taken by France Galop in late April which provoked the delay? The French regulator says its rules prevent it from offering any detail and Dettori has said nothing. It was presumably a trivial issue, given that a fresh set of tests was enough to resolve it, which makes it all the odder that we cannot be told what happened.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010