JOCKEY Frankie Dettori has been cleared to return by France Galop and has a good chance of riding at Epsom this afternoon as the Investec Derby Festival gets under way – with the Oaks the big attraction on the opening day.
The French racing authority banned Dettori, 42, for six months after he tested positive for cocaine at Longchamp last September, with his suspension reciprocated by the BHA. The Italian had been due to make his comeback last week but was thwarted when a test carried out by France Galop produced, according to the BHA, an “irregularity”.
Dettori met France Galop’s medical committee on Tuesday to discuss a “private matter”, the resolution of which means the rider can now return to the saddle. Dettori’s French agent Herve Naggar confirmed that all recent tests had returned negative results and the Italian can now resume his career.
“He is back in business,” said Naggar. “Everything has been received by the France Galop medical committee and they can now give him back his licence.”
Dettori had been widely touted as a possible rider for one of Aidan O’Brien’s five runners in tomorrow’s Derby but, as declarations for the meeting were made before he was cleared to return, Dettori will probably have to sit that out. However, after the BHA reissued his licence last night, it appears likely he will ride in the opening race at Epsom today.
His UK agent Ray Cochrane said: “The plan is for him to ride Ed Dunlop’s horse [Beatrice Aurore] in the first race at Epsom on Friday and, while I’m waiting to hear back from Marco Botti, he has said Frankie could ride his horse, Fattsota, in the ten-furlong handicap.”
Ralph Beckett’s only British Classic victory was one of the bigger surprises in recent Investec Oaks history, but no-one will be rubbing their eyes in disbelief should Secret Gesture repeat the feat at Epsom this afternoon.
The Hampshire trainer’s standing in the game since Look Here’s 33-1 success in 2008 has risen to the extent he has two viable contenders, with leading light Secret Gesture ably supported by Talent.
Parallels will obviously be drawn between Secret Gesture and Look Here, who was beaten in the Lingfield Oaks trial while Secret Gesture won last month’s heat by an amazing 10 lengths.
Seen twice last season, the daughter of Galileo has long impressed at home and, only this week, Sheikh Fahad’s Qatar Racing announced they had purchased a 50 per cent share in her.
Although breeders Newsells Park Stud retain an interest, Secret Gesture will carry the colours which gave the Sheikh a first Classic win with Just The Judge in last Sunday’s Irish 1000 Guineas. “We properly realised what we had with Secret Gesture after she won her maiden at Newbury,” said Beckett. “I hope she’s special but I’m not brave enough to say that just yet.”
Jim Crowley gets the ride and he is relishing the opportunity to partner a favourite in a Classic. He said: “She won her race at Lingfield very well. You’d have to be fearful of Moth and Liber Nauticus but I wouldn’t swap her for those two. You need a bit of luck around there, obviously, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Talent is clear second-string but has done very little wrong, losing her maiden tag at Kempton last September and putting down a marker in the first recognised Oaks Trial, the Pretty Polly at Newmarket. That event produced Oaks heroine Ouija Board in 2004. “She’s well balanced, will handle the track and her pedigree says she will stay,” said Beckett.
Secret Gesture’s Lingfield rout displaced the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Liber Nauticus from the head of the market as she had not yet emerged from her stable. Ballymacoll Stud’s home-bred had looked one of the brightest juvenile prospects on her only start last autumn at Goodwood. Stoute elected for his preferred trial, the Musidora Stakes at York, and while Liber Nauticus did not win by a wide margin, she gave the impression of having more to come. “She’s a fine, big athlete who does very little at home,” said Stoute. “I thought in the Musidora she did well. She wasn’t spectacular but that was never going to be her style. Mentally it will have sharpened her up for the Oaks and we go there with a good chance.”
Gertrude Versed’s half-sister Gertrude Bell was fourth in the 2010 Oaks and she has similar credentials. Trained by John Gosden, as well as being owned and bred by his wife Rachel Hood, she ran on the all-weather through the winter but earned her place when second to Banoffee at Chester.
Harry Dunlop will use the Epsom experience of Johnny Murtagh for Roz, who has exceeded outsider status in the past but must step up from her 10th in the 1,000 Guineas.
Michael Bell has already won a Derby with Motivator and an Oaks with Sariska, so should have a good idea of what it takes to win a Classic. He runs both Madame Defarge, the mount of Tom Queally and third in the Pretty Polly, and The Lark, related to Sariska and ridden by Jamie Spencer.
Trainer Hughie Morrison was narrowly denied in the Oaks last year when Shirroco Star finished second to Was. This year he saddles the unbeaten Banoffee, fine winner of the Cheshire Oaks. Morrison said: “Before she made her debut in late April I didn’t imagine she’d be lining up in the Oaks. When we had the chance to make the entry I thought I would be being wildly optimistic as I’d never seriously worked her at home. I suspect the ground will be good to soft, which will be fine for her.”