Frankie Dettori gets easy ride from Clare Balding

Frankie Dettori gets easy ride from Clare Balding

frankie dettori talks to clare balding about his cocaine abuseFrankie Dettori returns to racing soon and has spoken for the first time about why he took cocaine. It led to his six month ban from the sport.

Speaking to Clare Balding for both Channel 4 News and Channel 4 Racing, Dettori claimed it was a one off mistake. He says he was depressed and resorted to the white stuff for relief.


Had I been interviewing him I would have had to ask three supplementary questions.

Clare Balding did ask him outright if this incident was a one off. The body language of Frankie was uneasy on the eye. In the transmitted interview he was heard to reply “oh yes.” But then there was an edit and they came back in with him saying the word “look” and then going on to talk about the image of racing in general.

Firstly, if this was a one off, I’d ask him why plenty of people inside racing have long been heard to say he had a cocaine habit?

Secondly, in 1993, did he not receive a police caution for possession of cocaine? This fact was not brought up, at least not in the edited interview as transmitted.

Thirdly, was Frankie diagnosed as clinically depressed? I don’t know the answer as the question was not asked. I would have asked that question.

These days the word ‘depressed’ is thrown around like confetti. The very serious illness is debased by people saying “I’m depressed”, when what they really mean is that they are fed up with life or work.

Frankie spent years being smothered with the love of the Godolphin organisation. When it became clear that he was no longer automatic first choice to ride for the boys in blue, Frankie understandably found it hard to deal with. Did he go a doctor? Was he put on anti-depressants? Did he undergo cognitive therapy sessions? If he felt as he says he did, then he should have sought such help.

As a jockey, Frankie’s best days are behind him. He has been great for racing. A sport that finds it difficult to promote itself in a good light. Frankie Dettori did more good for the image of flat racing than any public relations manager.

No kissing and making up for Frankie and the Sheikh

No more kisses

But he led a cosseted life with Godolphin. One employee had as part of his job spec the role of dealing with Frankie’s mood swings – a characteristic never displayed in front of camera.


What I learned most from this well conducted, if over gentle, interview was this. Once Godolphin cut you dead, they really cut you dead.

Dettori worked for the operation for eighteen years. They showered him with gifts. He had a close working relationship with Sheikh Mohammed.

But Godolphin ceased to use him as their number one stable jockey. It was clear to all that young Mickael Barzalona was getting the big rides. Maybe it was because Frankie was out of form in the saddle. Maybe other issues led to Frankie falling down the Godolphin pecking order.


One thing is for sure. Frankie Dettori deserved a personal explanation from the boss.

True, he was just an employee and a well rewarded one at that. For many years.

But Frankie had not just boosted the image of racing, he had done wonders for the popularity of Godolphin, including racing in Dubai. Someone with the organisation should have sat him down and told him his services were no longer required.

As it was, as he admitted to Balding, he had to force the issue. He chose to ride Camelot for rivals Coolmore. That was the final straw for Sheikh Mohammed. The two men have not spoken since. Dettori says that when he sought a meeting with his former boss and friend he was told the Sheikh was “too busy.”

This leads me to believe that Godolphin might buy lavish presents for you and your family, but when they are done with you… you’re history.

clare balding talks to frankie dettori for channel 4 news

Clare Balding & Frankie Dettori

Frankie spoke of how amazed he was that he led UK news bulletins ahead of Barack Obama winning a second term as President and ahead of war in Syria. But Frankie need not concern himself with that. All it proves is that the UK news broadcasters long ago lost perspective on what is important world news.

Frankie has had an easy ride from the racing media. They need him as much as he needs the sport. He’s been swooned over by the written racing press and some TV presenters.

As I know only too well, when you get too close to the person you are interviewing you tend to lose perspective. If you then find yourself having to ask uncomfortable questions of that person you feel, well, uncomfortable.

It comes with the territory of working in print or television journalism. Once a footballer, a jockey, a trainer etc becomes a friend your power to ask a searching, investigative question diminishes.

Even now Frankie is being treated differently from some other drug abusing athletes. There is a sympathy vote doing the rounds that would not exist for other high profile sportsmen.

Nobody forced the powder into his nostrils. There wasn’t a drug pusher hanging around outside the gates of his home.

I  don’t think this excellent jockey has let down the sport of racing. Other jockeys have taken drugs while others have ridden drunk.


Frankie has only let down himself, his wife and his family.

I am glad he will be back in the saddle soon. His days of riding high profile winners may be behind him. But he will be back in the winners’ enclosure from time to time.

Over the years he’s won me plenty and owes punters nothing.

My concern is for when he eventually hangs up his colours for the last time.

I have personal experience of seeing a top sportsman unable to cope with life once the limelight has dimmed. It ended tragically.

My sincere message to Frankie is a simple but heartfelt one.


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