Racing: Fallon backed by Coolmore to ride the storm

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The Independent Online

It has long been apparent that Kieren Fallon will only be blessed by true equilibrium while on horseback. Yesterday, however, the essential fulcrum of a career in chaos remained rooted in place. With a blend of principle and pragmatism, Fallon's employers at Coolmore Stud made it plain that they intend to keep the faith.

Everyone else may have decided that the latest evidence of an epic instinct for self-destruction - a six-month suspension, issued on Wednesday, for a failed drugs test - will finally mark the end of one of the great careers in Turf history. Critically, however, Fallon's patrons take a different view.

Michael Tabor, one of the Coolmore partners, offered Fallon his unequivocal support from Miami. Having stood by their man during four traumatic months since he was charged by police investigating allegations of corruption, they evidently take the view that this latest setback, though exasperating, does not materially affect their stance.

"We remain very supportive of Kieren," Tabor said. "We always have been, and we still are. Obviously people are talking, everyone seems to have a point of view, but I can assure you we are unanimous. Nothing has changed. We just have to get on with it. For me, he's the best around. I just hope he is able to stay around. Only time will tell."

Tabor admitted that Fallon is in low spirits. "But now is the time to be resilient," he said. "When things go wrong, that's when you have to show strength, to keep on the straight and narrow. He's over 21, like all of us. We all have to take responsibility for our actions. The next few months will tell us a lot more, but we are all still with him. We feel very sympathetic. If we didn't, it would be over. But we do, and that's the beginning and the end of it."

Fallon has always insisted that the police prosecution is preposterous, and still hopes his lawyers can demonstrate that he has no case to answer at an initial hearing early next year. Otherwise he faces a protracted court process, during which he will remain prohibited from British racecourses.

Since the suspension of his British licence, Fallon has been able to continue riding in Ireland and certain other jurisdictions, including France. But it was only two days after the British authorities decided to ban him - itself a highly contentious decision - that Fallon failed his drugs test at Chantilly.

The consequences exploded out of the blue on Wednesday and John Magnier, the Coolmore boss, could be excused if he felt like wringing the man's neck. With reciprocation of the French punishment guaranteed elsewhere, Fallon cannot ride anywhere until June. He has the option of an appeal, perhaps against the severity of his punishment for what was apparently a very marginal trace. But he is unlikely to risk postponing the suspension deeper into the Flat season.

Having himself intimated that he might quit altogether, if unavailable to his employers for the start of the season, Fallon has rather invited the general assumption that not even he will bounce back this time. At 41, however, he remains at the height of his powers - fully 13 years younger than when Lester Piggott made his own comeback after a spell in prison.

If Fallon's absence were instead the result of an injury, he would need only to prove his physical prowess to dispel any talk of a new stable jockey at Ballydoyle, where Aidan O'Brien trains most of the Coolmore horses. Having taken a very different type of fall, he is instead being asked to show mental fortitude.

If Magnier and his partners were prepared to wait until Fallon has the chance to clear his name, then they are scarcely in any more of a pickle now. As it was, the only reason for appointing another jockey would have been to ensure greater consistency, and in a perverse way this latest disaster will help to achieve that.

For the bottom line is that retaining a jockey at Ballydoyle would be utterly pointless. Generally speaking, the only feasible candidates are already but a phone call away - including the two men who preceded Fallon, Jamie Spencer and Michael Kinane. If Fallon can get through this crisis with his reputation and mental attitude intact, then the Coolmore partners would consider him worth the wait. And, vitally, they know that their fidelity is just about the only way of fortifying his precarious temperament. In the meantime, only charlatans will speculate over his "successor" at Ballydoyle, not least those bookmakers quoting odds about various fantastic candidates.

Of course, the situation would be very different were some luminous alternative waiting out there, demanding employment before anyone else could claim his signature. As it is, while he may have forfeited financial security, Fallon should console himself that he has used up only eight of his lives. Doubtless there will be extra opportunities for Seamus Heffernan, already treasured for his day-to-day contributions at Ballydoyle. But Magnier, Tabor and Derrick Smith will otherwise continue to use the best available - precisely because the best is unavailable.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Seattle Robber

(Exeter 12.40)

NB: Billy Bray

(Exeter 3.20)

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