Racing: Breeders' Cup doubt adds to Fallon's plight

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The Independent Online

As the template for international competition on the Turf, the Arlington Million has provided an enduring vision of the way frontiers can be dismantled by horses. Unfortunately, the 24th running in Chicago today shows no such progress in the divisions between men.

The Illinois Racing Board's decision to reciprocate the suspension of Kieren Fallon, pending his trial on a charge of conspiracy to defraud punters, means that the stakes have been raised yet again in his treatment by the British regulators. If Fallon ultimately clears his name - as remains his adamant expectation - they will now be considered responsible for an even greater purgatory.

While Fallon and his employers at Coolmore Stud are aggrieved that he cannot ride Ace today, their gravest concern will now be his eligibility to ride at the Breeders' Cup in November. True, the Kentucky authorities are perfectly entitled instead to favour the precedent set by the Turf Club in Ireland, where he remains free to ride. But it would seem prudent for Fallon and his patrons to establish his status sooner rather than later, because they can ill afford any more 11th-hour legal pantomimes when they get to Churchill Downs.

Fallon will be replaced on Ace by Garrett Gomez, who heads the American prizemoney table, while the other Ballydoyle runner today, Ivan Denisovich in the Secretariat Stakes, has another senior local rider in John Velasquez. Though these bookings demonstrate that Coolmore will never lack quality on the substitutes' bench, they might well have preferred a European rider "on the weeds" - the local term for the specialist metier of riding on grass, as opposed to dirt. But their attempts to ratify Fallon, who flew here in the hope of riding, meant they could scarcely bring another ace over merely on standby.

Of course, the schism within this global village is pretty trivial compared with the grim situation that left Martin Dwyer stranded at Heathrow on Thursday. The jockey finally got through security queues yesterday in time for his latest assignment with Phoenix Reach - the horse who has already done so much to advertise a talent rewarded this year by a contract from Sheikh Hamdan, not to mention the Derby itself.

Together, Dwyer and Phoenix Reach have already won Group One prizes in Dubai, Hong Kong and Canada, but success today would be a still greater achievement for his trainer, Andrew Balding. The horse has been off the track for a full year since adding to a depressing litany of surgical interventions last summer. "He's had five general anaesthetics in his life, and it's unlucky for any horse to have even one. But all credit to him, he has bounced back every time," Balding said yesterday.

"Of course it's a worry, the fact that he hasn't run for so long, it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. But from a fitness point of view, I don't think I could be happier with his condition if he had raced three weeks ago. The concern is rather that you can't afford to be in any way rusty at this level."

Certainly it is astute of Balding to drop Phoenix Reach down to 10 furlongs. Arguably the horse is more effective at a mile and a half, but you should always beware trainers who clumsily push a horse too far after a lay-off.

In the circumstances, it would be a mighty effort if Phoenix Reach can get himself involved. Perhaps racing on medication will restore Ace to the form that saw him finish second in the Breeders' Cup Turf last autumn, while the home team includes two colts developing an epic rivalry in Cacique and English Channel, but the best value may be Soldier Hollow.

The Germans have a fine record in this race, and this proven Group One performer ran an ideal trial over an inadequate trip last time.

The most "European" card of the American summer has also lured overseas raiders to the other Grade One races. Rising Cross has already clustered several feathers in the cap of John Best, being Oaks-placed at both Epsom and the Curragh, but may be vulnerable dropped back in trip for the Beverly D Stakes.

Conversely, Ivan Denisovich must prove his stamina in the Secretariat, though a false pace is possible with just six runners and again lasix may assist a return to the form he was showing last year. Primary, trained by William Haggas, may well try to control the pace. After all, there is more than one way to "fix" a race.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Auwitesweetheart (Ascot 1.20)

NB: Eddie Jock (Ascot 1.55)