Racing: Balding says Ridge defeat was down to Fallon 'error'

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The Independent Online

Andrew Balding, the trainer of the horse at the centre of the Kieren Fallon controversy, yesterday led the defence within the racing community of the champion jockey.

Of the Lingfield race, in which Fallon failed to ride Ballinger Ridge out to the line and was caught close home by Rye, Balding said: "Having watched the race countless times, I still firmly believe it was an error of judgement by Kieren. I can safely say that both myself and the owner wanted the horse to win badly. We have another chance to put things right on Tuesday."

The five-year-old is due to run at Lingfield again tomorrow in a maiden race. "Martin Dwyer rides," Balding said. "The only reason that Kieren rode was that Martin was in India, but he is back now and will take over."

The News of the World yesterday alleged that Fallon told their undercover journalists before the race that Rye would beat his mount.

John Blake, the Jockeys' Association chief executive, also gave his full support to Fallon yesterday. "It's disappointing that the six-times champion jockey appears to have been targeted in an undercover operation," he said.

"I have spoken to Kieren this morning and from a private family point of view, he's very disappointed, and that's his chief concern at the moment."

Blake went on: "Kieren was a bit naive in going to that meeting [with people who turned out to be undercover reporters], but he joins a list of people who have been caught up in that.

"There doesn't seem to be any hard evidence that Kieren has done anything.

"John McCririck is the arch critic of jockeys' behaviour, but he badgers and baits them on the [Channel 4] Morning Line to say which one is going to win. If you follow the Rules of Racing, the jockey has probably been paid for that interview, so is strictly speaking in breach of the Rules.

"We all know that it is a television interview in a controlled programme, but the point to be made is that jockeys are in the culture of talking to people.

"These bits have to be taken out and analysed and the question asked, 'has there been any breach of the Rules, and is there any hard evidence of that fact?' I don't think there is, but by weaving it into an ongoing story and bringing up some issues from Kieren's past, then of course it becomes sensationalised. I still think public confidence will be behind the six-times champion jockey."

McCririck has called for Fallon to be suspended pending the investigation. "While official investigations are under way, the Jockey Club must immediately suspend the riding licences of Kieren Fallon and John Egan [who was also named in the News Of The World article)," he said.

"At the time, I made clear that Ballinger Ridge had been given the most spectacularly inept ride imaginable. I called for Fallon to be banned for six months for deliberately easing down a horse and losing a race that should have been won. Because of the severity of that penalty, jockeys in future simply wouldn't dare do it, whatever the motive."

But John Maxse, the Jockey Club's public relations director, said: "In order for us to withdraw a rider's licence there must be extremely strong reasons for doing so. The evidence published in the News Of The World does not warrant us doing that.

"The ban for dropping hands has been increased from seven to 14 to 21 days and will soon go to 28 days. Riders have not stopped doing this, but it is not a common occurrence. It happens only once or twice a year."

The News Of The World alleged that before Tuesday's race Fallon told their undercover journalists: "I'm actually down as the favourite. It's not very good. The horse of Jamie Osborne's is going to win the race. A horse called Rye." The newspaper claims Fallon gave his opinion on other races but "declined a cash payment" for such information.

The newspaper also reported Fallon's lawyer as saying: "Kieren Fallon believed these journalists were members of the public. As many jockeys do on TV on a daily basis, he gave them his views on the chances of horses he was riding."