Racing: Fallon told me he stopped Top Cees, says TV presenter

THE LIBEL trial which is currently the focus of the racing world was yesterday told by Derek Thompson, the Channel 4 racing presenter, that Kieren Fallon, the champion jockey, told him that he had deliberately prevented the horse from winning the race in question on the instructions of Jack Ramsden, the husband of the horse's trainer, Lynda. Fallon, subsequently recalled to the witness box, denied the suggestion.

Fallon and the Ramsdens are suing The Sporting Life over an unsigned editorial in May 1995 after the horse, Top Cees, won the Chester Cup. The editorial suggested all three had "stopped" the fancied Top Cees three weeks earlier in the Swaffham Handicap at Newmarket. Mirror Group Newspapers, publishers of The Sporting Life, deny libel. They say the article was justified and fair comment on a "scandal" that was a matter of public interest.

The newspaper's counsel, Richard Hartley QC - who had earlier said that his best evidence would be if he could produce someone who had overheard someone telling Fallon not to win at Newmarket - asked Thompson in the High Court in London for his reaction to the result of the Swaffham Handicap.

Thompson, who was subpoenaed on his return from working in Dubai on Monday, said he felt that the horse "probably should have finished an awful lot closer with a more forceful ride, and probably should have won".

On the night of the race, he was dining with friends at the Old Plough pub near Newmarket, when he saw Fallon. He told the court: "I don't want to repeat this in open court, which is why I've tried to stop it coming to open court because it was said to me in confidence. I was asking `What happened with Top Cees this afternoon as I thought he would win' and Kieren's words were, `Yes, I thought the horse would win as well but when I got into the paddock Jack told me to stop it.'

"It might have been said flippantly, he might have had a couple too many. I am just repeating what he said to me one night in the pub."

Thompson said that he mentioned the conversation to a couple of people at the next morning's Channel Four production meeting and suggested it might be worth interviewing Fallon, as Top Cees' failure to win was a major racing story.

"Kieren was obviously quite reluctant . . he was being hounded by the press, if that's the right word, so I said: `It will do you good to talk about it.'

"I did say that what was said last night in The Plough will not come out and I will look after you." He added: "I knew Kieren as a very good jockey, although not socially. I admired him greatly as a super horseman."

He said he was reluctant to become involved in the case because he had no desire to get involved with litigation between people he knew on both sides. "It's as simple as that. I did not want this to come out."

Patrick Milmo QC, for the Ramsdens and Fallon, opened his cross-examination by saying: "What you have just told the court about Kieren Fallon is an outrageous lie - that's right, is it not?"

Thompson: "If you think so, that's up to you. But no, it's not."

Milmo: "I'm putting that to you, Mr Thompson, I want you to face it. My question is what you have just said about Kieren Fallon, sitting down there on that front bench, is an outrageous lie."

Thompson: "That is incorrect".

Milmo alleged that Thompson had been "boasting" to his Channel 4 colleagues that Fallon had confided in him about being told to pull Top Cees.

Thompson: "The word `boasting' is not correct."

He said that what was said by him in the production meeting was confidential. "It's the same reason you might talk to people in chambers. It was off the record and you would be annoyed if it was repeated elsewhere."

Fallon himself was recalled to the stand to rebut Thompson's version of events at the Old Plough. "I wouldn't have said anything like that," Fallon told Milmo. "I wouldn't call Mr Ramsden "Jack", I'd call him Mr Ramsden."

Later, Milmo asked if there was any truth in the allegation that he had deliberately stopped Top Cees winning.

"No," Fallon said. "Something like that would be terrible. For any jockey to even think about stopping a horse would jeopardise their career. What Mr Thompson has invented is a lie. Mr Ramsden has never asked me to stop a horse as long as I've ridden for him, or Mrs Ramsden for that matter."

Cross-examined by Hartley, he denied that it would be easy for a rider of his ability to stop a horse. "You could find trouble, not take the gaps?" Hartley asked. "You're going at 35 miles per hour, three inches from the horse in front," Fallon replied. "You don't look for trouble, you try to avoid it."