Conor Kane talks to Kieren Fallon who still has a few shots to fire across the bows of horse racing.
AS he surveys the state of the sport he has gripped for the best part of three decades, from a vantage point closer to the end than the beginning, the jockey who attracts headlines like a magnet is hardly in pipe-and-slippers mood.
Far from it. Others in his position, after years in which the duels on the turf itself, galvanising thoroughbreds to perform to the outer realm of their ability, proved the easiest battles of all compared to those elsewhere, may choose to slip quietly into the twilight years of their careers.
But despite professing happiness and contentment with his job and life to an extent he couldn’t experience during the years when an ultimately-farcical police prosecution hung over him regarding
alleged fraudulent behaviour and he was then banned because of a failed drugs test, Kieren Fallon has a few shots to fire across the bows of horse racing — and specifically those who run the game in England.
At the age of 46, he has no intention of shedding the whip and the saddle just yet. Pointing out that others have kept going until the age of 50 and beyond, he maintains that he has never felt healthier or fitter and is excited about the bookings likely to engage him in the coming months from yards such as Luca Cumani and Mark Johnston.
The Cumani-trained filly Seta, now four and a winner of three listed races already, is one he repeatedly refers to as an appealing prospect for the summer while, overall, he’s not ruling out a seventh jockeys’ championship.
“I’m only a couple behind and I’ve been off for seven days. I’m only a few behind Richard Hughes and Ryan Moore who are the second and third favourites behind Paul Hanagan.”
The Co Clare native has emerged at the pinnacle six times in all between 1997 and 2003, and says the heat of championship battle will soon be a thing of the past for him.
“If I don’t do it this year I’m not going to bother. No. It’s hard work.”
Such a thought doesn’t appear to bother him too much, either, at peace as he is with his current place in the world. “I’m content again. I had all that hanging over me for three years there, not knowing what way it was going to go, was I going to do time or what, you know? So at least now, I’m happy, fit and well and really just want to get back onto a roll, you know?”
He missed last weekend’s opening classics of the British season, of course, after being banned for a week by the BHA for not riding out for second place on Sukhothai at Kempton Park last month.
“You’re talking about a Thursday night and a £1,700 race and you miss... You can’t even say it was a mistake or an error, it’s a head-bob to the line, a head-bob and you miss the whole Guineas meeting plus so much more. Obviously the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, does it? It doesn’t, it’s ridiculous, you know.”
Did he feel hard done by the verdict — initially a 10-day ban but reduced on appeal to seven, allowing him to ride at all of this week’s Chester meeting. “For sure. The thing is, in England what they try and do is, the stipendiary stewards, they think it’s their job to suspend you. They think that’s their job, that they have to try and find a jockey to suspend.”
The British racing authorities should be examining low prize money, particularly during the winter flat season, according to Fallon, citing the knock-on effects for jockeys and their income.
“What it’s doing is it’s encouraging corruption in racing,” is his warning. “If you won a two-grand race, six and a half percent, that’s all you get. How much is that, if you win? It’s not a lot.”
He cites the example of India where suspensions are frequently handed out to jockeys tempted towards corruption by poor prize money. Could the same happen in this part of the world? “It looks like as if it’s going to go down that route... particularly during the winters. Not in the summers now, but the all-weather racing is going to cause a lot of problems in England... I mean I’m one of the lucky ones, you know what I mean? I have good stables to ride for, got good owners and during the summer the prize money in England is okay, you know. But the boys that are riding on the all-weather, they’re struggling to make a living, they’re struggling to pay a mortgage over there.”
His own legal difficulties are in the past now, he says, as is his well-chronicled trouble with cocaine, all of which happened within the same few years and led to him losing what he described as “the best job in racing” – stable jockey at Ballydoyle.
“All that was a killer really. We all knew nothing was going to come out of it anyway and to have to hang around for three and a half years, nine weeks in the Old Bailey, for what?”
Yet without the support at the time of Aidan O’Brien and the ownership trio of John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor and their legal team, he wouldn’t still be riding today, he says.
The pressure sometimes spoken of when talk in racing turns to the Ballydoyle job is something he shrugs off. “The job was easy. The job was the easiest part. We’d great horses, we’d great staff, a great trainer. We worked great together. I think when you do, if you’ve got a rapport... Look at the great horses in that couple of years I was there... It was amazing, you know? The horses were great. I’d rather think of the way I started more than the way it ended because we started with the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas — Oratorio and Footstepsinthesand, Oratorio winning the Champion Stakes... We had Peeping Fawn, Dylan Thomas, great horses.”
The former champion’s recent seven-day ban allowed him return to Ireland for a few days, watching on TV as racing’s latest sensation, Frankel, confirmed his juvenile promise with a display in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas which impressed Fallon as much as anyone else in the game.
“It’s funny because, actually, the guy he’s named after, (the late American trainer) Bobby Frankel... he taught me a lot when I went to America back in ‘96, to learn about the clock and the pace and changing the leads and one thing or another. He was a great man and just one of the greatest trainers of all time in America, if not the world, and here we have a horse named after him. Well not a horse, a freak. I’d never even consider the Derby for a horse with that much speed, no way.”
For now, though, it’s all about riding winners, never allowing his detractors write him off, and dismissing any talk of imminent retirement. “I feel great, never felt as well in my life. So, who knows? Mick Kinane stayed riding until he was 50.”
Is that his target? “If I pace myself, stay clear of injuries and that, I won’t have a problem. I feel good at the moment, thank God.”
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