There was always something faintly perfunctory about Kieren Fallon's protest to the High Court over his suspension from riding in Britain. Given judicial reluctance to intervene in the affairs of sporting regulators, his lawyers never held much hope of a reprieve. Even so, there was no mistaking the renewed sense of shock yesterday when a judge confirmed the legality of his suspension, pending his trial on a charge of conspiracy to defraud.
Any illusion that Fallon and his powerful patrons retain any control of his destiny has now evaporated. In theory, he could take the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA) to the European Court of Human Rights, but to do so would be pointless - if not because of the rigidity of the verdict issued yesterday, then certainly because it would take far too long. Sure enough, his solicitor forlornly surrendered after the judgement, and will now retreat to prepare for the trial.
"My client is understandably disappointed," Ian Burton said. "We are not seeking leave to appeal and our focus will be on defending the ill-founded charges against Mr Fallon."
Unfortunately - and this was the crux of their petition - it may take two years before Fallon can clear his name in front of a jury. Though Fallon is nowadays based in Ireland, and can continue riding there and elsewhere, his banishment from British racecourses leaves him stricken. Ordinarily, for instance, he would today be at Ascot riding the hot favourite, Hurricane Run, in one of the pivotal races in the European calendar.
The HRA has wanted to be seen as holding its nerve in this crisis. It is now imperative for Fallon and those around him to do the same. Otherwise he really will be destroyed - a danger darkly explored by his counsel in the High Court, but one that can and must be avoided.
Certainly Fallon will not have his lucrative contract to ride for the owners of Coolmore Stud renewed. He will also forfeit the jockey's share of prizemoney won by their horses in Britain. Doubtless he will not enjoy the same level of affluence as a result, and the same may be true of the wife to whom he makes payments, and their children.
More significant, perhaps, is the psychologically corrosive impact of this purgatory. The Coolmore partners cherish Fallon precisely because of his glacial temperament, because of his impenetrable focus once mounted on horseback. Even his supreme composure, however, must surely be jeopardised by the surreal months ahead.
As it happens, in both respects - financial and emotional - his security will almost certainly be underpinned so far as possible by his patrons at Coolmore.
There is a widespread assumption that they will seek a replacement when Fallon's contract runs out. But while they may not persevere with him out of loyalty, they are very likely to do so out of pragmatism, a field in which John Magnier has few peers.
After all, none of those that might make a short list are superior to Fallon, and some will invariably be free to ride in the big British races. Take Hurricane Run. They could have hired just about anyone except Frankie Dettori, who is retained by Godolphin. They settled on Christophe Soumillon, but might equally have approached Johnny Murtagh, Michael Kinane or Olivier Peslier, and Jamie Spencer would also have been free but for suspension.
The only purpose in offering someone a contract would be consistency. But Coolmore will probably grit their teeth, knowing they can still use the best of the lot in most jurisdictions critical to their commercial success. At 41, the idea of waiting may appal him. But so long as his morale is preserved in the meantime, he would be able to resume in Britain as a champion still in his pomp.
It may well prove that Fallon's availability will encourage their main trainer, Aidan O'Brien, to keep his best horses out of Britain. For instance, the brilliant George Washington had options next month at Deauville and Goodwood, and it would seem safe to forget the latter now.
Of course, Coolmore would only embrace this approach on the basis that the case against Fallon will collapse. They must make some kind of judgement. And nobody should be under any illusions that the HRA has done precisely the same.
True, it declined an invitation from Fallon's lawyers to consider the evidence they had been shown. And it was quite right to do so, as Mr Justice Davis agreed yesterday. The HRA could hardly be expected to consider evidence "cherry-picked" by Fallon's lawyers.
The HRA had instead assessed the potential damage to the sport's reputation if Fallon was allowed to ride while facing such a grave charge. So far as a judge might be concerned, it was perfectly entitled to make that call - even if others might consider its concern about the danger, or perceived danger, of "further race-fixing" to be highly disingenuous.
All in all, in legal terms, the HRA had covered its tracks scrupulously. So long as the right procedures are followed, it is perfectly possible to describe both the HRA's stance and that of the Turf Club as fair and reasonable.
But that is the whole point. It would have been quite feasible for the HRA not to suspend Fallon. Their decision to do so has the pointed air of a mission statement. Remember that the HRA only assumed responsibility for integrity from the Jockey Club in April this year. One way or another, they have raised the stakes enormously.
Given the deplorable "form" of the police whenever they have groped their way onto the racecourse, the HRA have made a considerable leap of faith. For if the police have so far shown only the tip of the iceberg, they must reveal some fairly outlandish hidden dimensions for there to be anything sinister below.
Fallon's hopes of exoneration may now focus on a submission of "no case to answer" later this year. Otherwise it appears unlikely that he will face a jury until late 2007.
If he is right about the futility of the charge against him, the HRA's boldness would instead be seen as recklessness. It is commonly assumed that Fallon would be able to seek damages, but that seems far-fetched, given the emphatic support of a High Court judge.
Whether those responsible would ever again dare to show their faces on a racecourse, however, is another matter. If they have got this one wrong, they will have dragged their sport into a scandal of their own devising.Reuse content