Frankie Dettori returned from a short post-Ascot break abroad on Thursday to find that he has been frozen out of John Gosden’s riding plans for Newmarket on Saturday.
The trainer’s public criticism of the jockey after a couple of high-profile defeats at Royal Ascot was one of the recurring themes of last week.
Thursday's speculation, which Gosden appeared to do nothing to pour cold water on with his silence speaking louder than words, was rife that the relationship is as good as over.
Betfair even opened a book on his replacement with Hollie Doyle, who rode the French Oaks winner Nashwa for Gosden on Sunday, the 4/11 favourite ahead of James Doyle, a 7/1 shot. That may be a publicity stunt rather than a money-making exercise but many a true word is spoken in jest.
According to Dettori’s agent, Peter Burrell there had been no communication or explanation from the trainer by Thursday evening.
He said: “We are completely in the dark. Frankie rang the yard this morning to find out what he was riding (on Saturday) and what weights he needed to do and he has had no contact from the yard. At declaration time we saw the other jockeys on board. Everything comes to an end and if confirmed he would fancy a career as a gunslinger (freelance).”
At Newmarket on Saturday Dettori, 51, has one ride, Lezoo, owned by a Hong Kong-based pal of the jockey Marc Chan, for Ralph Beckett.
But he has been replaced on Nat Rothschild’s Stowell, whom he has ridden the last five times albeit without success, by Rab Havlin, always his number two, and by James Doyle on Sunray Major, a horse Dettori won on twice last year, for Juddmonte, the outfit who also owned Enable.
Havlin also keeps the ride on George Strawbridge’s Mimikyu on whom he won last time although under normal circumstances he would merely have been keeping the saddle warm for Dettori.
The way this is looking it is a clear-your-desk moment rather than just a shot across the bows after a lacklustre Ascot for the pair, highlighted only by the success of Inspiral in the Coronation Stakes.
The trainer, a great diplomat but unable to contain his frustration this time, was critical of his rides on Lord North, Stradivarius and the Queen’s narrowly beaten Saga.
Normally Dettori would be due to ride work at Gosden’s Clarehaven Stables on Saturday morning so, if the participants all continue to take the fifth amendment, that will be a telling moment.
Dettori and Gosden go back a long way. When Dettori came back from a ban imposed by the French authorities after testing positive for cocaine in 2013, his career appeared to have stalled. But he was picked up by Al Shaqab as retained rider and, when William Buick left Gosden to join Godolphin in November 2014, it opened the door for the re-establishment of the Gosden-Dettori old pals act.
Within a year he had won a Derby on Golden Horn. Three Prix de L’Arc de Triomphes, three Gold Cups and three King Georges are just the tip of the iceberg for what was an incredibly symbiotic relationship.
The big question is what options are open to Dettori if this really is racing’s Sir Alex Ferguson-David Beckham boot throwing moment. There is probably no one job big enough available to him at the moment.
But as recently as last season he rode two Classic winners for Aidan O’Brien so, one imagines, there will always be a bit of second string action for him there and there would probably still be plenty of Group One action as a freelance. One imagines if and when he retires, a moment which may have been brought closer by recent events, it will be on his own terms - not with a P45 in the post.