Racing: Back in the saddle, Fallon makes losing return after arrest

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The Independent Online

Martin Doran pushed back his battered panama and tore up his betting slip in disgust as Kieren Fallon and his horse were beaten by inches in the champion jockey's final race yesterday at Salisbury's sun-drenched race course.

Cursing mildly, Mr Doran, 47, a regular race-goer and like Fallon a native of County Clare, said: "Kieren's just having no luck today. I hope all this police business isn't affecting him. He's my lucky talisman. I always bet on him. He's the only reason I come racing really. Such a wild lad."

Less than 24 hours after his high-profile arrest over allegations of race-fixing, an unabashed Fallon was back in the saddle and, almost to cock a snook at investigators, entertained his public to an uncharacteristic string of defeats.

In Salisbury's small grandstand, filled with punters in blazers and summer dresses, there were many who shared Mr Doran's concern that Fallon's recent rich vein of winning form had been cut short by the "police business" - his detention on Wednesday over allegations of providing tips for use in online betting exchanges and deliberately losing races.

The simultaneous arrest of 16 people, including three jockeys, a trainer and a disgraced racing syndicate manager at addresses from North Yorkshire to Hertfordshire, had thrown the higher echelons of Britain's racing establishment into flux.

The Jockey Club admitted that the investigation, by City of London Police, into the possible rigging of 80 races over two years by a syndicate of racing professionals and businessmen casts into doubt the "integrity" of the £20bn sport of kings.

But at yesterday's meeting in Salisbury - the sort of bread and butter provincial racing, with titles such as the Axminster Carpets Apprentice Handicap, that keeps bookmakers in business - there was little doubt that Fallon retained the admiration of the crowd, if only for turning up to work after a day in the cells of a Suffolk police station.

As he entered the paddock for his first race, one onlooker shouted: "Go on Kieren, don't let the scum get you down."

Bookmakers on the course, which sits within sight of the tip of Salisbury cathedral's soaring steeple, reported increased betting on the Queen's 39-year-old jockey of choice at the day's temple to gambling.

One Newmarket-based trainer, who asked not to be named "because racing really is a very small world", said: "I say fair play to Kieren for getting straight back in the saddle. If they had enough evidence against him, they should have charged him. He is not the sort of man who is ever going to hide away from adversity. He's more likely to punch it on the nose."

Certainly, Fallon and managers of the racecourse went to considerable lengths to keep the millionaire jockey away from any unwanted attention. He was swept into the course in his silver Mercedes before entering the weighing room through a rear entrance. For each of his six races, the Irishman was flanked by a phalanx of security guards as he made his way to and from the paddock. Jeremy Martin, the clerk of Salisbury race course, said: "He just wants to get on with the day."

Or as Billy, the shaven-headed minder employed to drive Fallon to and from the course, put it when asked by journalists how the jockey was feeling: "Go away."

Those looking to the six-times champion jockey and twice winner of the Derby to improve their bank balances would have been disappointed. Fallon's card by the end of his afternoon's work, for which he would have been paid at least £480, read: Two second places, two fourths, one sixth and one unplaced. For a jockey who has won 17 races in the last fortnight, it was not the most successful day at the office.

As stewards called a photograph for Fallon's final race, one wag in the Persian Punch Bar said: "They just want to make sure he's not got a suitcase of cash under his vest."

Alongside the supporters of Fallon, who along with the 15 others arrested must answer police bail in November, there were also those who were unimpressed by his brush with the law. Steve Jones, a bookmaker, said: "It does not help the sport at all. Punters like the idea that there is a bit of tipping going on but nothing of the scale alleged in this case. It undermines the sport. Fallon is the symbol of flat racing. He should go out of his way to be squeaky clean."

Back among the detritus of torn-up betting slips and crushed plastic beer glasses there were some who took a more libertarian view. Gordon Mitchell, a retired aircraft engineer who has been attending races for 50 years, said: "I don't think it matters if they are throwing races. At the end of the day, we're ignorant peasants who are having a bet. If the world didn't have money to lose on people like Kieren Fallon, then it would be a sadder place."

His six rides at Salisbury

1.50Fallon made the early running on the 5-1 shot Golden Fury, but faded into 4th place of the five runners, beaten by a length and a half.

2.20 Red Duchess was the champion's mount in this 15-runner fillies' race but the 9-2 joint-second favourite trailed home in 9th place.

2.50 Unusually for a runner from the Fallon/Sir Michael Stoute partnership, Highland Diva drifted to 20-1, but finished an honourable 4th of 16.

3.20 Look Here's Carol was given a forceful ride by Fallon but she gained only the runner-up spot after being outpaced close to home.

3.50 Regina, the second favourite, refused to settle for Fallon and she dropped back to finish a well-beaten and disappointing 6th.

4.20 Fallon's best placing of the day came when Grampian failed by only a neck to provide a handsome 7-1 winner for the champion's supporters.