NEXT Thursday’s Flat racing could hardly be described as inspiring.
The all-weather at Lingfield or Chelmsford would struggle to get the blood pumping of the most fervent racing fan.
But to Rab Havlin it will feel like Royal Ascot.
He has been counting down to the most ordinary of race days after a hellish ten months riddled with injustice and frustration.
It will be the first time he has ridden in a race since January after French authorities banned him for failing a drug test.
It’s an allegation he fiercely denies — and tests prove he could not be guilty of. His boss John Gosden describes it as an “appalling miscarriage of justice”.
Havlin is continuing the fight to clear his name in the French courts. He estimates the whole episode has cost him more than £100,000 and several Group-race prizes.
Havlin told me: “It feels like I’ve been thrown under a bus. It’s been kick in balls after kick in the balls.
“I read something the other day I thought was good — ‘if you’re walking through hell don’t stop, keep walking. That’s how I feel.”
It’s hard to blame him.
Life was good for Havlin last year. His 82 winners was a personal best. It included a first Royal Ascot success, three Group-race victories and becoming a key member of Gosden’s powerful team.
He had just married Kelly, mother of his two young daughters, and they were thinking of moving house. Then his world was turned upside down.
Enable the one to beat
RED-HOT Arc favourite Enable has “no chinks in her armour” says Rab Havlin.
And he should know. Havlin has been riding John Gosden’s fantastic filly every day ahead of tomorrow’s big race.
He rode Enable to her debut win in November. This time he will be cheering her on at Chantilly as the dual Oaks heroine looks to extend her run of Group 1 wins to five.
He said: “I’ve been riding Enable a lot recently, either me or Frankie ride her work. I led Frankie in her last piece of work the other day. He said ‘you can feel her lungs — she must have the lungs of an elephant’.
“There’s no chinks in her armour. Everything has to improve to beat her. She’s the best filly we’ve had and we’ve had some good ones.”
After riding Arc favourite Enable to a debut success at Newcastle in November, just a few days short of his 43rd birthday, a letter arrived that filled him with horror.
It was from France Galop. Although the Scot is far from fluent in French, the words ‘cocaine’ and ‘morphine’ were only too clear.
A translation revealed the crushing news he had failed a drugs test when riding in France in October and was facing a six-month ban.
Havlin said: “I couldn’t believe it. The letter said I’d tested positive for five substances. I thought ‘this must be someone else’s test – they’ve messed this up’.”
Two of the substances could be accounted for. Havlin had taken some pills before riding at Saint-Cloud after injuring his back.
Guidelines suggested that medication should have cleared his body but the presence of cocaine and morphine was a much bigger worry.
The months that followed would have tested anyone’s belief in justice. Havlin said: “I’ve never regretted fighting it. I wouldn’t be able to look the kids in the eye if I hadn’t.
“The second half of the year has been frustrating. For the first half I kept thinking someone was going to step in and say ‘this is absolute b*****ks’.
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“I always had another hearing to aim at. Leaving every hearing my lawyer and I were like ‘that went well, hopefully this will be the end of it’. And then you find out that nothing has changed.”
In a criminal court a plating-class barrister would be able to tear the case apart in a lunch break. But sporting authorities play by their own rules.
The paperwork on the original urine test had not been signed, neither had the equipment used in the test.
The B-sample was only tested for one of the five substances so it was impossible to say if it matched the original.
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Havlin paid to have a hair sample tested meticulously to prove he had nothing to hide.
That proved beyond doubt he had not taken cocaine or morphine. But France Galop chose to ignore the evidence.
In his 27 years as a jockey, Havlin, who grew up near Ayr in the west of Scotland, has never failed any of the regular tests in Britain.
He has not even registered on the breathalyser when checked for alcohol.
With the choking smoke of a drugs ban wafting across Havlin’s character it would be easy for some to presume there had to be some fire. But there doesn’t seem to be even a smoulder of suspicion.
Gosden has never doubted Havlin’s innocence. He said: “It’s been an appalling miscarriage of justice. There’s obviously been contamination along the way. The whole process has been most unsatisfactory.
“If for one moment I thought he was guilty I would tell him to do his time and shut up. I know he’s completely innocent.
“He was riding for me the night before and my wife and I travelled with him to France early in the morning. They want to sweep it under the carpet, the jockey will be suspended and he’ll give up.
We’re not going to give up — we’re determined to see justice done. Robert’s a very honourable man, a good bloke and I’m backing him all the way.”
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That support is not lost on Havlin.
He said: “The boss has been unbelievable. Right from the very start he said to me ‘you’re coming in, getting stuck in here — you’re coming racing with me, I don’t want you sitting at home watching other people winning on these horses’.
“So I’ve been going racing with him. We’re using a lot of jockeys who wouldn’t know the horses so I’ve been speaking to them.
“I’ve enjoyed that. It’s been good to see another side. It will make me a better rider.
“When I have bad days I just take myself off on the bike. That’s when I get angry about it the most.
“It could have been a hell of a lot worse. I’ve been saving up to move house. We were so lucky we didn’t because we’d have probably lost it by now.”
Even the darkest cloud can have a silver lining. The break has made Havlin appreciate what he has missed out on.
He added: “Normally when I get up in the morning to ride out the kids are in bed and when I come back at night they’re in bed. You’re a Facetime dad.
“That will be the hard bit. I’ve got all my jobs now, all the school runs, the ponies, ballet, gymnastics. I don’t know how Kelly is going to cope.”