It’s Now or Never for Fallon

Monday musings

By Tony Stafford

You wait for the trigger moment and then the story unfolds. It did for me this morning at precisely 4.42 a.m. after 40 minutes’ musing, or rather agonising.

Would I major on the 2016 Classic picture, projecting on from events at Newmarket last weekend and Chester and Ireland over the past few days? Any such concentration would have the Ballydoyle (and as time unravels, Piltown) operations at the centre.

But I’ll come (briefly) to the US Army Ranger/ Port Douglas ruminations later in the piece and the implications of a second Group 1 Aidan O’Brien 1-2-3 with Minding, Ballydoyle and Alice Springs in the 1,000 Guineas after a similar outcome to last year’s Moyglare.

It was reverting back to the latter race last September when the idea for this week’s offering took shape as that day Now Or Never had finished an unexpectedly-disappointing last of ten for highly-admired young trainer Michael O’Callaghan.

Yesterday at Leopardstown, filly and trainer made a huge leap into the consciousness of Irish racing with an emphatic success in the Derrinstown Stud Irish 1,000 Guineas Trial stakes, maybe helped by the absence of any of the leading Coolmore lights.

But for me the main story was the identity of the jockey. On the same day that Mark Todd, 60, rode his own horse clear show jumping to clinch fourth in the Badminton Horse Trials, another equestrian veteran was in the winner’s enclosure at Leapardstown.

Now 51, Kieren Fallon can never get away from the “Marmite” tag. You either love him or you hate him. Some of his time in Newmarket could be described as tempestuous with late (or even non-) arrivals at the track a commonplace.

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From the late 1990’s he occupied for a time three highly-coveted stable jobs. The appointment to the late Sir Henry Cecil stable in 1997 caused great comment at the time, when Henry initially described him as a “very hard worker”.

It was during the Cecil years that I first got to know him quite well as I dovetailed my Daily Telegraph work with some advisory stuff for Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation, who had several good horses at Warren Place.

I’ll never forget the 1999 Derby won by Oath. In those days videos of races were relatively expensive and certainly a bind to get hold of from Racecourse Technical Services, so in the euphoria of success the Prince got me to ask the TV people if they would let him have a copy.

Waiting in the booth next to the Epsom car park, I had a leisurely look at all angles of the race, and can still picture the head-on which showed just how beautifully-balanced Fallon kept his horse, with his own head a few inches to the outside of the horse to counteract the camber.

Kieren rode 200 winners and more five times and collected six UK riding championships, yet the Cecil stint ended immediately after the King George in 1999 where Oath was unplaced. The atmosphere in the box was weird, hardly anyone showing up, much to the confusion of myself and racing manager Willie Carson, and headlines in the following morning’s News of the World, while probably inaccurate as far as Fallon was concerned, explained the forthcoming breach.

In the early 2000’s Fallon was snapped up by Sir Michael Stoute, but after several owners expressed their misgivings about the jockey, the agreement lapsed. Still he later rode two Derby winners for Stoute, Kris Kin and North Light, but as a freelance. His UK Classic haul also features four Oaks wins, and five and four in the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas.

After Stoute and some more disciplinary issues, Fallon gravitated to his native land as stable jockey at Ballydoyle. While not proving such a lavish source in numerical terms, the 2005-7 seasons brought 57, 53 and 24 domestic wins, when Fallon was the regular jockey on Dylan Thomas, Holy Roman Emperor, Hurricane Run and George Washington among others.

I remember seeing him close up before the 2007 Arc which he won on Dylan Thomas, but only after a stewards’ decision to keep the race that seemed to flow fully in the face of the usual French harsh line on jockey infringements. As Michael Tabor philosophically recalled seven years later after the same panel of officials threw out Gleneagles’ Group 1 win on Arc day: “I guess we owed them one after Dylan Thomas!”

Fallon seemed preoccupied that day and no wonder as a long ban was imminent for further misdemeanours. He had been riding in Ireland during 2007 while under a UK ban and rode in neither country the following year.

Back as freelance in the UK in 2010, Fallon rode 140 winners and followed with 154 the following season, riding for such as Luca Cumani, William Haggas, Brian Meehan and some of his old connections from his days in the north. Then it was 87, 62 and 62 again two years ago, before a virtual halt and some time spent in the US last year and over the past winter.

One of the best bits of the Racing Post site, apart from all the stats, without which I’d never post an article, is the revelation of the lowest riding weight of the past 12 months. Fallon must have been getting one thing right in the States, as he is listed as having ridden at 8st1lb!

In that case, at 51, you’d think he’d have descended into a wizened old man, but when I bumped into him at Chester last week I thought he looked the best he’d ever been, with a broad smile and fresh face. He duly went out and won on Ian Williams’ Sir Maximilian, much to the delight of the many people who’d cheered and on the odd occasion – like the controversial Top Cees Chester Cup – booed him past the post over the years.

One thing I can say about Fallon is that when I’ve been around he’s never jumped off a horse and maligned him. Many top jockeys after a poor run would say to the owner: “He’s useless, get rid of him”, but Kieren always tries to look for a positive.

After his latest US sabbatical, few would have expected him to pitch up in Ireland, but pitch up he did with O’Callaghan. His first win for the trainer came with Approcailis at Dundalk last month and Now Or Never is their second together. So far he’s had 54 rides for four wins, while a few forays back over here have brought three more. O’Callaghan, interviewed recently, went up in my estimation when far from agreeing he’d done Fallon a favour, expressed his delight to have secured the services of such a brilliant rider.

Yesterday at Leopardstown was Kieren’s first winner on that track since partnering O’Brien’s 1-2 shot Rectify to an easy win in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial five years ago to the day. Between 2011 and last year, that was his sole win from only five rides in his native land. Maybe Now Or Never can dent the supremacy of the Ballydoyle team and challenge for a place at least in the Irish 1,000 later in the month.

I know most people were of the opinion that if Seamie Heffernan had sneezed in the latter stages of the Chester Vase, he would have retrieved the lead and victory from stablemate US Army Ranger. But he definitely gave the horse two decent cracks in the last furlong, to which the horse responded with a movement left and might have banged the eventual winner had he repeated the dose.

At 20-1 Port Douglas looks the one for place betting with his uncomplicated running style and guaranteed stamina, but Aidan clearly believes there’s plenty of improvement to come from the other Galileo chap, so why should we doubt him?

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