16 May 2013

Frankie Dettori: ‘I feel like Lance Armstrong’

Britain’s most famous jockey opens up to Clare Balding in an exclusive TV interview about why he took cocaine last year, leading to a six-month ban from horse racing.

Frankie Dettori – Britain’s most famous celebrity jockey – almost lost it all in 2012. He split from his stables, Godolphin, after 18 years with them; failed a drug test; and was banned from horse racing for six months.

In his first TV interview since the ban, speaking to Clare Balding for Channel 4 News, Dettori says his professional woes were a key factor in his “moment of weakness” when he took cocaine.

“Up until about two years ago I was having the best time of my life…and then for some reason things have changed. We had a new trainer, new way of doing things and I didn’t know whether I was in or out,” he said.

Things first began to go badly for Dettori when Godolphin – owned by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed – recruited two other leading jockeys, meaning he stopped being the automatic first choice to ride the best horses at the biggest events.

“My first seventeen years of my riding career [at] Godolphin, I was always the number one pick. All of a sudden I saw myself being the fourth in the biggest race in the world, and it started from there and it was never an explanation why and what, you know. I had to accept it for unknown reasons,” he said.

I feel like Lance Armstrong. Frankie Dettori

He said the first “stumbling hurdle” was when he was refused a horse for the Derby trial. Then, at the Ladbrokes St Leger, he was beaten into third place by one of his rival Godolphin jockeys, Mickael Barzalona, riding Encke.

“My head was wrecked, absolutely wrecked. I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said.

In a move which was destined to cause trouble, a hurt Dettori chose to ride for rival stables, Ireland’s Coolmore Stud, in the Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe in October. He rode the Aidan O’Brien-trained Camelot in the race, and split with Godolphin soon after.

“In hindsight, I should perhaps have confronted Godolphin…I knew then when I did ride the horse that was me finished. For me wanting to leave as much for them wanting to get rid of me. I couldn’t take any more and the rest is history,” he said.


Dettori said he was “depressed” as his relationship with Godolphin unravelled, and blames the collapse of the relationship for his state of mind when he took cocaine.

“You start getting depressed. I wasn’t sleeping at night. I was arguing with my wife,” he said.

However, since then the jockey maintains he has changed and moved on, using the six months as a time to think and prepare for his return – as well as to put in a stint in the Celebrity Big Brother house.

However, he – and the racing world – continue to take his indiscretion as well as the wider issue of drug abuse in sport seriously. He says he has been drug tested 15 times in the last two months.

“I feel like Lance Armstrong – they come and knock on my door any time of the day,” he said.

Frankie Dettori tells Clare Balding he feels like Lance Armstrong after his drug shame (C4)