Kieren Fallon was a special talent who left a mark

A quick sweep of the archives would show it is perhaps not the greatest surprise that Kieren Fallon has called time on his career in the saddle.

Kieren Fallon was a special talent who left a mark

One of the most fascinating characters in European racing, Fallon, 51, has endured such extreme highs and lows that it is almost a disappointment he has bowed out with barely a whimper.

Unquestionably a giant of the weighing room, controversy, court cases and advancing years have seen Fallon’s column inches shrink with every passing season, and also his opportunities to ride on the biggest days of the year.

Born in Crusheen, Co Clare, it is nearly 30 years since the Irishman arrived in Britain to ride for Jimmy Fitzgerald, and he grew from northern circuit journeyman to become, at different times, the first choice at three of the greatest training institutions in the sport’s history.

But controversy littered the veteran’s career, too, and his story took countless twists and turns.

There were a few years of relative anonymity before an incident at Beverley in 1994 when Fallon pulled Stuart Webster from his horse. It was the first public display of his firebrand nature and brought with it a six-month ban.

Fallon’s talent, however, was indisputable and he landed the plum job as stable jockey to Henry Cecil in 1997, hitting the ground running with the 1000 Guineas on Sleepytime and the Oaks on the top-class Reams Of Verse.

The string of winners from Warren Place in Newmarket helped Fallon make a giant leap forward and he ended the season as champion jockey for the first time, with over 200 victories to his name.

The partnership did not last and the pair split in 1999 — even though they had teamed up to win the Derby with Oath at Epsom in June of the same year.

Then there was the horrific Royal Ascot fall in 2000 when a shoulder injury almost ended his career, and in 2003 he admitted to having a problem with alcohol and undergoing a programme of treatment.

Michael Stoute was always a staunch ally, providing him with Golan and King’s Best in the 2000 Guineas, Kris Kin and North Light in the Derby and Russian Rhythm in the 1000 Guineas, and through everything Fallon’s talent shone like a beacon.

But the drama was never much more evident than at Longchamp in 2007. The day after he won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with a nerveless ride on Aidan O’Brien’s Dylan Thomas, enduring an agonising wait to be confirmed the winner in a stewards’ inquiry, he was at the Old Bailey for the infamous ‘race-fixing’ trial.

And just as soon as the case against him and five others collapsed, Fallon was slapped with an 18-month ban for a positive drugs test when riding at Deauville that August.

The suspension from Deauville inevitably ended his fruitful association with O’Brien and Coolmore, who had stood by him through his court troubles but finally ended Fallon’s number one role at Ballydoyle despite a string of big-race successes that also included luminaries such as Footstepsinthesand, George Washington, Yeats and Oratorio.

The loss of such a position coupled with his lengthy suspension would have finished off a lesser man, but Fallon bounced back, returning to the saddle in September 2009.

He did not have many opportunities that particular year, but Luca Cumani began to engage his services the following season, while the likes of Mark Johnston and Kevin Ryan also used his undeniable skills when convenient for their runners.

Indeed, O’Brien came knocking again when seeking a rider for one of his lesser lights in the 2011 Derby — but even that race could not pass without incident for Fallon.

After stepping off Native Khan to take the ride on Recital, Fallon found himself back in court as owner Ibrahim Araci sought an injunction, claiming the rider had reneged on a deal to partner his colt. With Araci’s initial request refused on the eve of the race, the drama dragged into Derby morning with the owner winning a last-ditch High Court appeal which saw Fallon ruled out only hours before the horses were loaded into the stalls.

The whole incident appeared to be something of a storm in a teacup in the aftermath.

Wins for Most Improved in the St James’s Palace Stakes and Society Rock in the Sprint Cup at Haydock in 2012 put Fallon back in the Group One picture, but the profitable link with Cumani loosened when one of the stable’s major owners, Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, decided he no longer wanted the rider aboard his horses.

Limited opportunities will always take their toll on seasonal totals — in his pomp in 2003 he chalked up 221 winners — but the 62 victors he partnered in 2014 included what proved to be one last hurrah — and a fifth 2000 Guineas — courtesy of Night Of Thunder, who shocked hotpot Kingman as a 40-1 chance for Richard Hannon.

It was a first Classic for Fallon since the Oaks on the O’Brien-trained Alexandrova in 2006.

He rode in this year’s Derby on Across The Stars for his old friend Stoute in the Kris Kin colours, but there was to be no glorious swansong.

He divided opinion enormously. Many regarded him as a bad apple, a man racing would be much better off without. But for many more, he was simply ‘King Kieren’ with the ‘Fallon Factor’ a potent weapon in the punters’ armoury.

His unique riding style — so power-packed at his best — was as easy to pick out as those of previous champions like Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Steve Cauthen and despite his many travails, Fallon without question leaves his mark in racing history.

He will be missed, and only now may he be truly recognised for the talent he was.

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