How has it come to this? Just a month ago, Frankie Dettori was the highest-paid jockey in the world, one of the most respected and admired of his profession. Now his extraordinarily lucrative retainer with Godolphin is about to end and he is facing the possibility of a worldwide riding ban, having tested positive for a banned substance while competing in France.
He is 41, tending towards the really senior stage, even for a Flat jockey. It appears to be a difficult age for jockeys, since Kieren Fallon was also 41 when he first tested positive for a banned substance in France.
Presumably the example will not be suggested to the Italian by anyone in his entourage, because what followed for Fallon was a second positive test and a longer ban from which his career has never recovered, despite the Irishman's occasional claims to having discovered a new focus and will to win. Fallon has had 87 wins in Britain this year, compared to 154 in 2011, and his strike-rate has dropped to 13%, his lowest since 1994. The game appears to be moving on without him.
As it happens, Dettori's strike-rate this year is also 13%, having never dipped below 17% in the past 20 years, and he has managed just 51 wins in this country. Those disappointing numbers have a lot to do with Godolphin's decision to sign up his eventual replacements, Mickaël Barzalona and Silvestre de Sousa, at the start of the season and share the rides around.
But they also have something to do with his motivation. It is a very long time since Dettori was the sort of jockey who could be relied on for all-actionperformances from Monday to Sunday, regardless of the occasion. The hardest-working jockeys break through the 1,000-rides barrier each year but he has not done so since 1995.
It was that knowledge which prompted the new champion, Richard Hughes, to say this of Dettori, when told he intended to challenge for the title next year: "You can't just expect to get the good rides if you're not riding every other day and he knows that. I just hope he enjoys the mileage."
The news from France raises the possibility that Dettori will be on the sidelines for part of next season, though he should be back in time for Royal Ascot in June, even in a worst-case scenario. While a long absence would kill any chance of a fourth championship, he would return in time to take part in most of the year's Group One contests and it is those big races that give Dettori his raison-d'être.
Godolphin's decline has left him with many fewer chances at the top level but he can still do it when given halfway decent material, as he showed when driving Colour Vision to Gold Cup success at Royal Ascot and again, just last month, when brilliantly making all on Joshua Tree in the Canadian International.
"I can't think of a major racing country where Frankie hasn't had a big winner," said Marco Botti, Joshua Tree's trainer. That long list of accomplishments will ensure that, whatever the outcome of the present disciplinary process, there will be any number of potential employers when Dettori is next available.
"Newmarket is full of good, young trainers who think the sun shines out of his you-know-what," said Ray Cochrane, Dettori's agent, in the immediate wake of the split from Godolphin. That is likely to remain true when the leaves are green again, when today's yearlings are promising juveniles, when one of this generation's finest jockeys gets the chance to shine again.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Paolo Camera