THERE is a bemused expression on Neil Callan’s face as he walks through the gates at Lingfield to be faced by a horde of photographers, journalists and even a couple of camera crews.
“Didn’t you know lads, he’s off sick,” quips the jockey. As good a season as Callan is having, they are not waiting here for him.
Rumour has it Kieren Fallon had slipped into the course earlier on in the morning and, as he has managed to do a few times before, he keeps the media guessing.
Instead of muscling through the main entrance, the 44-year-old strolls nonchalantly around the other corner of the weighing room at 12.39pm, an hour and 40 minutes before the first.
Should there have been any hassle he was rather well prepared, as trailing behind his wheeled suitcase was a solid-looking entourage, one of whom is apparently known as ’Big Mal’.
The first picture opportunity has been missed and although the pink and green silks of Fallon’s first ride of the day can be seen hanging through the window of Lingfield’s functional administration building, a pane of frosted glass protects the jockey from prying eyes and lenses.
Fallon doesn’t appear again until he has weighed out for his first ride in public for nearly two years, and his first in Britain for three.
His return from an 18-month drugs ban has polarised opinion. Many observers feel the media have given the Irishman too much attention for someone who has courted danger for so many years.
But the majority of the punters who have turned up here are positive and there are cheers of ’go on Kieren’ and good luck wishes as he marches, steely faced, into the paddock.
For all his divisive behaviour, you cannot tell a media hungry for controversy that his comeback does not make a good story.
And Lingfield is making the most of it too. All publicity is good publicity for a small course in the affluent commuter-belt backwater of Surrey. Although it holds the most meetings of any British track, nothing much usually happens there.
They get plenty of spectators for the Derby Trial meeting and for some of the summer evening fixtures but although nothing like the amount of paying customers were here on this occasion, Fallon had put an estimated 500 more through the door than an ordinary Friday to push them into four figures.
It almost seemed like there were more press than public visitors, and it is hard to imagine a reporter from the BBC evening news or several of the country’s senior sports writers usually having an interest in the low-grade Polytrack maidens and handicaps on offer. The waiting continued, first for an interview after the opening race, and then for that elusive winner as Fallon met with failure on Rare Malt and then Roodee King, Diriculous and Satwa Gold.
Enthusiasm was waning among the troops as he returned to the job he has been counting down the months to absorb himself into, and Chelsea footballer Joe Cole started to receive some of the attention as he made a visit to watch one of his horses.
There was a brief flurry of interest as Fallon burst from the weighing room to drive off for his next booking at Kempton. Then back to normal, as it usually is at Lingfield.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved