Racing: Fallon burdened with expectation

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The Independent Online

It takes a little something to knock the Cheltenham Festival from the main slot on the agenda at this time of the year, but then Kieren Fallon has never been a slave to convention.

We shall be seeing less of Kieren - in the flesh certainly if not the headlines - following his decision to take the king's euro and ride for the Ballydoyle juggernaut next season.

It is an obvious partnership: the pre-eminent European horseracing empire in conjunction with the best jockey in these islands. The wonder is why it has not happened before.

Whatever the triumphal slant put on the signing by Fallon's new employers, the last 12 months represents a disaster in their decision-making. For 2004 the best Ballydoyle horses were partnered by Jamie Spencer, young Jamie Spencer.

It was an appointment that apparently tilted to the future. It was obvious that a 24-year-old rich on promise, but an experience pauper, would make mistakes. Spencer duly obliged, and there were consoling words from his masters as the well scrutinised errors piled up.

The star puppy might still be on the payroll had it not been for the Breeders' Cup at Lone Star Park, Texas, in October. The criticism was so concerted after the defeats of Spencer's mounts Antonius Pius (undeserved) and Powerscourt (well justified) that it seemed the judgement of Ballydoyle/Coolmore itself (aka John Magnier) was being called into question.

Thus, Spencer had to go. The admission that he got it wrong is an admission his employers must also bear. Spencer became domestic champion, but the view was that the best riding in Ireland was being produced by the last man out of the door in Co Tipperary, Michael Kinane. Mickey Jo may be past his peak, but he is not in the business of making the infantile mistakes of his successor.

It would take a year for Spencer to get to know the system, the horses and himself in the saddle. That 12 months has been thrown away. Patience only has a certain amount of elasticity at Ballydoyle.

The tyro needed a good batch of horses to help him through his studies and it was Spencer's misfortune that the steering jobs had gone to stud. There was no Galileo, Giant's Causeway or High Chaparral. Instead, he got One Cool Cat. And then Jamie Spencer felt the force of one of racing's great truisms. When it all starts going wrong, you cannot fire the horses.

Kieren Fallon, who is 40, is the best jockey around. He does get beaten, but he is never defeated by the occasion. The odds are he will be a Piggott or Eddery at Ballydoyle, rather than a Cash Asmussen or a Spencer, but he will need to make an early peace with the trainer Aidan O'Brien who, for all his benign exterior, expects his jockeys to be as thorough as himself.

Fallon, as always, has been a mysterious figure throughout this spring. He is not immune to the odd volte-face. Two weeks ago, the Irishman talked about his great commitment to the cause of Sir Michael Stoute, also his determination to regain his jockeys' championship from Frankie Dettori.

Both sentiments lie in bits. He said that America, where he was riding at Gulfstream Park in Florida, was a nirvana, yet it quickly became a place he could not leave soon enough. But then, Big John was calling. The jockey has apparently signed a three-year deal, reportedly four times his current retainer.

However, a single piece of inspiration could repay that investment. In 1977, after a Ballydoyle horse, The Minstrel, ridden by Lester Piggott, beat Hot Grove by a neck in the Derby, he was syndicated for $9m. Hot Grove was valued at £320,000. Now, Kieren Fallon is expected to make that sort of difference. There is no man better suited to the assignment but, if he needs inspiration, he just needs to check out the fresh face he will see on the other side of the revolving door.

FLAT JOCKEYS' CHAMPIONSHIP 2005 (24 March to 5 November) Ladbrokes betting: 2-5 L Dettori; 8-1 S Sanders; 10-1 K Fallon, R L Moore; 14-1 D Holland; 20-1 R Winston; 25-1 J P Spencer; 40-1 R Hughes; 50-1 J Murtagh, K Darley; 66-1 S Drowne. (win only)