Frankie Dettori will learn on Tuesday to what extent his positive test for a banned substance at Longchamp in September will hinder him in his attempts to mount a title challenge in 2013.
As speculation intensified yesterday that the substance was cocaine, it emerged that Dettori will appear before the French racing authorities in Paris next Tuesday, while it is possible there will be a further hearing before his fate is determined. Dettori will appear alongside his solicitor Christopher Stewart-Moore, who earlier had said that it was not a "performance-enhancing" drug.
Dettori was drug and breath tested six times in Britain during the 2012 Flat season, which ended last weekend. On each occasion he returned negative samples but returned a positive result when tested by French officials on September 16.
The British Horseracing Association moved to defend its testing procedures. Robin Mounsey, media manager of the BHA, said: "The testing procedures in British racing are very robust. Jockeys are tested randomly throughout the year at highly regular intervals, as well as at all the major festivals."
There are differences between the French and British testing systems, however. France's Galop policy is to urine test all international jockeys each time they ride in the country but, on average, local jockeys tend to be tested less often than a British jockey would expect to be tested.
The French authorities also have a longer list of banned substances, which include over-the-counter products like codeine or quinine, which is found in tonic water.
Dettori is facing a six-month worldwide suspension from the sport. That would allow him to return in time for Royal Ascot, but he would have missed key races at the start of the season. Two of the five Classics are run before the start of June and partnerships for contenders in the next two, the Derby and Oaks, are likely to have been established.
He is the third high-profile British-based jockey to have fallen foul of French testers. Before him, Champion Hurdle-winning jockey Dean Gallagher and Kieren Fallon, both of whom later admitted to serious drug problems, failed tests for metabolites of cocaine. The drug usually remains detectable in urine samples for between two and five days after one-off use, but can remain in the system of regular users for much longer.
One of Dettori's current contracts which could be expected to come under scrutiny should he be found guilty is his role as ambassador to the British Champions Series.
After a year of positive stories generated by horses such as Frankel, Black Caviar and Kauto Star, racing was growing accustomed to good news following a dark period when it was haunted by a succession of corruption charges and bad publicity.
Rod Street, head of Racing For Change, said: "We are, of course, always mindful of presenting racing in the best possible light, but we live in a world where sometimes the news is not positive." (© Daily Telegraph, London)