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Benoit de la Sayette could be back in action next month

Benoit de la Sayette could return to action next month after been given a six-month ban, backdated to April, for testing positive for cocaine.

The 7lb-claimer grabbed the headlines earlier in the spring when he partnered Haqeeqy to victory for John and Thady Gosden in the Lincoln at Doncaster.

However, a video was subsequently circulated on social media claiming to show De la Sayette at a party in the presence of cocaine following his Doncaster victory, prompting the British Horseracing Authority to take urine and hair samples from De la Sayette on March 31.

The urine sample returned negative on the same day the test was administered, but the hair sample had returned positive for metabolites of cocaine, with an interim suspension placed on the rider on April 17, with De la Sayette admitting he had previously used the drug, although insisting the video was from October 2019.

Haqeeqy and Benoit de la Sayette winning the Lincoln
Haqeeqy and Benoit de la Sayette winning the Lincoln (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

At a disciplinary hearing on Thursday, Ciara McElvogue, representing the BHA, said the rider had admitted taking cocaine “around three or four times” between August 2020 and January 2021, after falling in with a “bad crowd” while living in Newmarket.

De la Sayette was represented by Rory Mac Neice, who said the rider takes “full responsibility for the position he now finds himself in” and explained De la Sayette came into contact with cocaine through people he lived with, when he “succumbed to temptation”, before ceasing his use of the drug when moving back in with his parents in February this year.

“Mr De la Sayette has made a mistake and he entirely understands and embraces that, he won’t be the first teenager to have done so and he possibly won’t be the last,” said Mac Neice.

“He is very young, to his credit he had recognised prior to the positive test the need to make changes to his living arrangements and he had taken the counsel and advice of his parents and Mr (John) Gosden and he had made changes.

“He recognised the complete incompatibility of allowing himself to succumb to temptation with his ambition to become a professional jockey.

“His entire focus now and throughout the late spring and summer of this year has been to work hard at Mr Gosden’s yard to ensure that should he be given a second chance as a rider, he is able to pay back those who have helped him through this period.

Benoit de la Sayette after riding Haqeeqy to win the Lincoln
Benoit de la Sayette after riding Haqeeqy to win the Lincoln (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Mr De la Sayette apologises without reservation and all ultimately he can say is that he has learned the hard lessons of this episode in his life and he has learned those lessons well.”

McElvogue told the panel there was “no suggestion or evidence” that De la Sayette ever rode in a race under the influence of cocaine, but presented the evidence of a toxicologist who studied the hair sample as indicating “the likely use of cocaine in the period of January to March”.

She stressed the time period involved was estimated and did not say it amounted to a finding of continuing use through that period, but Tim Charlton QC, chairing the panel, felt the evidence was a cause for concern.

In handing down a six-month suspension, he told De la Sayette he had “misgivings about the fullness of the explanation you have given in the light of the expert evidence we have”.

He added: “Even though that expert evidence may not be something that we treat as gospel, it’s not written in stone, this panel is nevertheless concerned about the fact that you have on the face of it been using cocaine after you had returned home.

“That’s a possibility that the expert evidence opens and therefore being at home does not seem on that expert evidence to have cured the problem you had with the use of cocaine. That’s a matter you will need to confront, perhaps, when you come before the licensing committee.”

Benoit de la Sayette notified of positive cocaine test

Apprentice jockey Benoit de la Sayette has tested positive for metabolites of cocaine, the Professional Jockeys Association has announced.

Last month a video circulated on social media claiming to show De la Sayette at a party in the presence of cocaine following his victory on Haqeeqy for his boss, trainer John Gosden, in the Unibet Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster on March 27.

The PJA issued a statement on the rider’s behalf denying the allegation and that he “did not and does not take cocaine.”

Subsequently, the British Horseracing Authority arranged to take urine and hair samples from De la Sayette on March 31.

Benoit de la Sayette in winning action at Doncaster aboard Haqeeqy
Benoit de la Sayette in winning action at Doncaster aboard Haqeeqy (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The urine sample returned negative on the same day the test was administered, but the PJA said that on Friday De la Sayette was informed by the BHA that the hair sample had returned positive for metabolites of cocaine.

De la Sayette has now admitted that he had previously taken cocaine and that he had initially not been as forthcoming as he ought to have been to those close to him and advising him, the PJA said, adding he maintains that the circulated video was from October 2019, that he did not take cocaine on that occasion and did not do so after winning the Lincoln.

He was due to ride at Brighton on Saturday, but stood himself down and agreed he would not accept any further rides. He has subsequently been informed by the BHA that he is now suspended from riding pending the conclusion of the disciplinary process, which he will fully co-operate with.

Benoit de la Sayette after riding Haqeeqy to victory in the Lincoln
Benoit de la Sayette after riding Haqeeqy to victory in the Lincoln (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

De la Sayette said in a statement issued by the PJA: “I cannot apologise enough for my actions, both in respect of taking cocaine and of misleading those around me. Earlier this year I moved back home to live with my parents in order to take myself away from an environment where it was present.

“There are no excuses and I am sorry for letting down my family, the team at Clarehaven Stables, Mr Gosden and my colleagues in the weighing room.”

PJA chief executive Paul Struthers said: “Benoit is a very young man who only turned 18 in December 2020. He has made mistakes but the PJA will continue to support him throughout the process.”

PJA slams ‘malicious’ video of Benoit de la Sayette

A video posted online which shows rising star Benoit de la Sayette in the presence of cocaine has been described as “malicious” by the Professional Jockeys Association.

The short clip appeared on an account “purporting” to belong to the rider, who won the Lincoln on board John and Thady Gosden’s Haqeeqy on Saturday – his first ever ride on turf.

While a statement from the PJA confirmed it was De la Sayette in the video, it was allegedly recorded in 2019 when he was just 16, and he strenuously denied ever taking drugs.

The statement read: “A film has been tweeted from an account purporting to be Benoit de la Sayette’s. The film was apparently first circulated in the aftermath of Benoit’s victory aboard Haqeeqy in the Unibet Lincoln at Doncaster on Saturday.

“For the avoidance of doubt, this account is not Benoit’s nor is it under his control. This carefully edited film maliciously suggests that Benoit was taking cocaine after winning the aforementioned race.

“Benoit lives with his parents and was driven to and from Doncaster on Saturday by his father along with another jockey, and spent the evening at home with his parents. He was also riding at Doncaster on Sunday and once again driven there and back by his father.

“The film is actually from October 2019, when he was 16, nine months prior to Benoit being licensed. He was at a party in Lambourn and filmed being in the presence of cocaine that others, not him, were taking. He did not and does not take cocaine.

“Whoever is responsible for the distribution of this film is clearly intent on trying to cause significant damage to a young man at the start of his career. The PJA is taking steps to try and have the account that posted the video removed.”

Monday Musings: Hope for the future, and Cope from the past

Five a.m. on the second day of BST and I was still uncertain what to write about. It was tempting to go along with the thought that John Gosden, 70, on his own was never as potent a trainer as he has become with the addition of son Thady, 25, as joint-licence-holder, writes Tony Stafford.

Five Saturday wins on the second day of their newly-shared role at Clarehaven Stables followed a first-day victory with Coronet’s sister Regent at Lingfield on Friday. But not just any old wins. Two in the first two races at Kempton for Rab Havlin; Haqeeqy at Doncaster in the Unibet Lincoln on the opening day of the 2021 turf Flat season; oh, and £4 million quid’s worth with two easy wins on World Cup day at Meydan.

Races like the Cambridgeshire over the past few years have become almost cannon-fodder for Gosden and the way he is able to go into major handicaps with horses still in the embryonic stage sets him apart.

Lord North, one of the father-and-son team’s two Meydan winners, had been rated 98 when winning the 2019 Cambridgeshire but he has long since graduated to Group races and before Saturday was 25lb higher. Even that figure looks likely to get another hike tomorrow after a cantering win coming from last to first under Frankie Dettori on Saturday in the Dubai Turf over nine furlongs.

The Italian had to share Dubai’s riding riches with David Egan, who won on Mishriff in the Dubai Sheema Classic. The horse, winner of the lavishly-endowed Saudi Cup last month, brought his career earnings beyond £10million when holding on from two Japanese five-year-old mares.

Egan is clearly a young rider with a big future, though 7lb claimer Benoit de la Sayette could have the ultimate career, not that it’s ever easy to predict on such scant evidence. But for a rider having his first ever ride on turf to come through and win the Lincoln so easily and cheekily on Haqeeqy, with a late swoop after Brunch appeared to have pinched it, was unusual to say the least.

“Benny And The Jets”, as I have to call him – it’s the only way to remember the name – has already won nine races from 30-odd rides adding to one from one last year. I can’t remember another claiming apprentice of such promise being attached to the Gosden yard. [Gosden has not had an apprentice for 30 years, so no failing memory. Ed.]

Haqeeqy’s win was poignant for John Gosden as he is owned by Sheikha Hissa, daughter of Hamdan Al Maktoum, the colossus of the turf, as owner and especially breeder, who died last week aged 75. His death must have left a pall over Dubai World Cup night when sadly his colours, now racing as the Shadwell Estate Co, did not enjoy much luck.

Godolphin did win two, including the World Cup in which the Michael Stidham-trained Mystic Guide justified favouritism with another easy win for American stables in this valuable dirt race. Earlier, the same colours had a last-to-first win with the gelding Rebel’s Romance, who gave Charlie Appleby a first UAE Derby success. He is set to challenge for the Kentucky Derby, a race Sheikh Mohammed has long coveted.

Xxxx

Anyway, here I am, having not wanted to major writing about Saturday because I’ve been waiting for a couple of weeks for a suitable time to talk about a most remarkable – for me anyway – little publication that George Hill sent me as an antidote to lockdown.

It’s the 1950 version of Cope’s Racegoer’s Encyclopædia – with the “a” and “e” on the cover properly diphthonged – and it’s a remarkable insight into how racing was conducted in those days. The book was published from the immediate post-war years to the early 1960’s.

Alfred Cope, one of the major bookmakers at the time, pens two of many interesting articles. The first is why he goes racing, the second how his off-course mainly postal and telephone business was conducted. That was more than half a century before the Internet came to enrich or diminish our lives, depending on your viewpoint.

Cope talks about regular racegoers coming to the end of each season with energies spent, yet by the time that Lincoln’s Carholme racecourse – long lost to the sport, but written about on these pages back yon - rolled around for the start of the Flat season, “people were looking up train times and booking hotels with renewed energy”.

Of course that was a quarter-century before the advent of all-weather racing, so Flat horses that didn’t get on the track by November, had an almost five-month wait.  It wasn’t easy for the tracks either, for example Chester and Goodwood, now both racing throughout the Flat-racing year were each restricted to a single four-day fixture, Chester in May and Goodwood in July.

During 1949 racecourses had to survive under the iniquity of Entertainment Tax. Epsom’s Managing Director at the time, Mr C J L Langlands, wrote in a letter to a newspaper that of every £1,000 taken at the gate, £458 (at 45.8%) was paid in Entertainment Tax, £403 in rates and after lesser amounts for Profits and Income Tax, £69 was retained by the Epsom Grand Stand Association Ltd.

Admission costs have always been high in the UK compared with say France or the US but even £50 or even more for some of the bigger meetings today represents a bargain compared with the post-war years.

In 1950, the average weekly wage was around £2. Cope writes about the normal cost to go in Tattersalls enclosures was 30 bob - £1.50! When I was a kid in the 50’s we always went in the Silver Ring.

Two articles that most attracted my attention were one discussing the likely apprentices to watch out for as the 1950 season approached, along with another assessing the potential Classic horses of that year. Palestine, beaten in the 1949 Middle Park Stakes, had been the overwhelming favourite until then. The following spring, as a 4-1 shot, he did indeed win for the Aga Khan, grandfather of the present Aga, narrowly from Prince Simon, who then was beaten in another close finish to the Derby.

Also there was an intriguing re-printing of the memoirs of the great trainer from the previous Century, John Porter. He minutely chronicles the life of the great Ormonde, easily the best horse of his – and most other – times and unbeaten winner of 15 races including the Triple Crown in 1886.

Porter retells not just his races, but the gallops on the way including his work opponents and the weights carried as he approached his first race in the late summer of 1885. He relates that, as a young horse, Ormonde developed splints under both fore-knees which prevented him flexing them properly. “The growths were however dispersed by applications of Ossidine, a preparation I have always found to be the best remedy for bony excrescences.” So now you know.

Everything about his three years on the track and the gallops was related in atomic detail, including the awful day leading up to the St Leger when he first gave signs on the Kingsclere gallops of the wind infirmity which was eventually to curtail his racing career and blight his disappointing time at stud.

By the end of his three-race four-year-old season Porter was dealing with a “roarer”, who was so badly afflicted that “On foggy mornings you could hear him half a mile away before you could ever see him”. He did sire a Derby winner in Orme from a small initial crop but was bought soon after to stand in Argentina. For several years, with fertility declining almost to nothing, he moved back and forth to England and had a number of ownership changes.

At last in May 1904, Ormonde’s last owner, the American William Macdonough, thought it humane to have him put to sleep and this happened with the help of chloroform. He was buried at Menlo Park but as any schoolboy or schoolgirl that has visited the National History Museum in London would tell you, his carcass was exhumed and his skeleton re-constructed to stand proudly in Kensington.

The article about apprentices was most interesting. Written by Ainslie Hanson of the Sporting Life, and entitled “Looking for another Gordon <Richards, winner of 26 Flat-race titles> among Apprentices”, it says “Raymond Reader and Billy Snaith show exceptional ability.”

Snaith, who died two years ago, aged 91, did indeed do well, riding many winners for the Queen. He will always be remembered by Willie Snaith Road in his adopted home town (he was Gateshead-born) which is one of the main arteries in Newmarket.

The next talented young man mentioned was Emmanuel Mercer, elder brother to Joe, and already coming to the end of his apprenticeship which in those days was a strictly-tied seven-year process. Manny Mercer, father of Caroline (wife of Pat) Eddery, was to die in a fall before a race at Ascot a few years later having been kicked in the head at the start when one of the leading jockeys of his time.

Nine apprentices are mentioned as having the potential of possibly becoming a champion jockey, but Reader is the one the writer has no hesitation in naming his apprentice of the year.

Then later he describes among the nine, one schoolboy who “still weighs less than five stone, but who rode a couple of outstanding races towards the end of that season”. In one, riding an outsider he beat Doug Smith, the regular runner-up to Richards in the title race, in a thrilling finish.

It was only in the August of the previous year that this son of Keith, a successful Flat and jumps jockey turned trainer, and grandson of Ernie, a dual Grand National-winning jockey, had his first winner, The Chase at Haydock Park.  He is of course Lester Piggott and at the time of that first win he was just 12 years old.

The two wins referred to in this article also came before his 14th birthday and by the time he was 18, he had already ridden Never Say Die to win the first of his nine Derbys. I can still hardly believe that he asked me to travel with him on both his first two days riding after his release from prison.

Beaten a short head at Leicester in the first race on Monday October 15, 1990, he also rode future Cheltenham Festival winner Balasani for my friend Mark Smith. They were unplaced and Balasani was to move to Martin Pipe soon after from John Jenkins.

I was tasked to bring the car round for a quick getaway after his last ride but, naturally struggling to move back the seat after 7st wet-through Bryn Crossley had driven up, and then failing to hear the Mercedes’ very quiet engine, I missed the appointment by enough time for Lester to be besieged by the media!

Then on the Tuesday, flying down to Badminton and from there by taxi to Chepstow, the great comeback was put in motion when Nicholas, trained by wife Susan for Danzig’s owner Henryk De Kwiatkowski, won a small race. This first win came aged 54, and was an event we celebrated that night in a first-person piece in the Daily Telegraph.

The following month Lester rode Vincent O’Brien’s Royal Academy to an amazing late-finishing triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, a week short of his 55th birthday and exhibiting all the strength shown over more than 40 years. Lester happily is still around, and that little brown-covered and rather shabby book has many more secrets for me to unfold as we hopefully get back to normal after this awful twelve months.

If you fancy getting hold of a copy, I noticed one for that year, and most others, available on eBay, George’s full-time job these days.

Haqeeqy powers to Lincoln glory for apprentice Benoit De La Sayette

Many might have found the prospect of having a first ride on turf in the Unibet Lincoln slightly daunting – but not Benoit De La Sayette, who looks booked for stardom following his faultless ride on Haqeeqy at Doncaster.

The 18-year-old has been making waves on the all-weather during the winter and when his name appeared next to Haqeeqy’s at Monday’s confirmation stage it looked a shrewd move from John Gosden, who now shares the licence with his son, Thady.

But while the winning rider was able to claim 7lb off the improving four-year-old, given the turn of foot he showed it probably made little difference to the result.

Brunch broke cover from the pack over a furlong out, but when Haqeeqy saw daylight he put the race to bed in a matter of strides, looking the proverbial Group horse in a handicap in the process.

The 9-2 shot – owned by Hissa Hamdan Al Maktoum, whose father Sheikh Hamdan died earlier this week – won by a length and a half. Hortzadar was third, with Danyah fourth.

“It’s unbelievable and to have the support of these connections is a real thrill – I can’t thank everyone enough for legging me up,” the rider said.

“I wanted to follow the (William) Haggas horse (Johan), but he didn’t run so it was a blank canvas. He jumped beautifully, I got behind someone as I just wanted to get him switched off.

“Luckily enough a gap opened at the end which I wasn’t expecting, as I thought I was going to be trapped, but the turn of foot he showed was thrilling. To have a feeling like that, you can’t get better.

“I walked the track, like everyone, and we all knew where the best ground was, it was such a tight bunch so I was lucky enough to get a gap.”

The Gosdens also had winners at Kempton and in Dubai, meaning their new partnership has got off to a flying start.

“They let me know I had the ride on Monday and my face lit up when he told me,” said De La Sayette.

“I’m not really thinking about the champion apprentice title. I’m just thinking about my next ride, I just want to carry on riding winners and riding for wonderful trainers.

“I just want to do the best I can and prove what I can do, that’s pretty much it.

“What the boss has taught me is the cooler you are the better they will run, if you get a bit revvy that is when you can make mistakes. I just wanted to keep cool and get him switched off.

“To even be on the racecard, for it to be my first turf race it was all a bit ‘wow’, and a big boost to my confidence. To ride my first race on turf in such a big race, and then to win, it’s amazing really.

“My father was a champion amateur rider in France for a couple of years and I always wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“I grew up on a horse, he came over to ride for Godolphin and I did the Pony Club circuit and then went pony racing at the age of nine.

“I can’t thank my parents enough, driving me around everywhere, they are the main reason I’m in the position I’m in. I went to Mr Gosden’s on work experience at 15 and I’ve been there ever since.”

He added: “I’m 18. It’s a dream start, to win the Lincoln, my first ride on turf, it’s a fairytale. I’ll probably wake up tomorrow thinking it was a dream.

“The Gosdens are so supportive, any slight mistake I make he’ll run me through it. I couldn’t ask for a better boss.”

Michael Dods was proud of the effort of Brunch in second and said: “He did everything right, if anything he might have got there a bit too soon, but the winner went past him in a matter of strides when he opened up.

“We were giving him 7lb when you take the jockey’s claim into account.

“We’ve no excuses, we’ve been beaten by a very good horse, I’m delighted with ours.

“We’ve lost little in defeat, we’ve been beaten by a Group horse. To win the Lincoln you’ve got to be a Group horse, look at Addeybb.

“You need to be just on the verge of going into Group races to win.”