The solution to racing's latest who'lldoit - ride the Ballydoyle horses this year, that is - was revealed last night with the announcement that Kieren Fallon is to take the Co Tipperary hot seat. Since the six-times champion jockey checked into the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados on Tuesday, his 40th birthday, speculation had been rife that the Irishman would be going back to his roots to ply his trade. The luxury establishment is part-owned by John Magnier, supremo of the Ballydoyle-Coolmore operation.
The appointment follows the surprise resignation earlier this month of Jamie Spencer after only one season at Ballydoyle. Spencer himself had replaced long-serving Mick Kinane; both jockeys left amid rumours of personality clashes with resident trainer Aidan O'Brien.
Confirmation of Fallon's plum new job came in the form of a brief announcement from Coolmore, the massive stallion station stocked largely by Ballydoyle graduates. "Owners John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith are delighted to announce that Kieren Fallon will be the retained jockey for the horses at Ballydoyle and elsewhere for the 2005 season," it said. It is understood that Fallon will not only ride the O'Brien-trained horses at Ballydoyle, but will also have first call on horses owned by Magnier, Tabor and Smith trained elsewhere.
Fallon's talent as a rider is undeniable; his strength is second to none and his judgement to few, and he has the priceless quality, that sets the great apart from the very good, of winning races on horses that should not win. His personality, though, is not without flaws; throughout his career controversy has been along for the ride - he is currently on bail from the City of London Police as part of the long-running and ongoing investigation into race-fixing - and it says much for his abilities as a horseman that those at Ballydoyle are willing to take him on.
From the rider's point of view, the move to Ireland has in effect put paid to any thoughts of regaining the jockey's championship lost to Frankie Dettori last year. It will also sever his five-year link with Sir Michael Stoute, who has provided him with the last two Derby winners, Kris Kin and North Light, and who has steadfastly stood by him in times of personal and professional trouble. North Light remains in Stoute's yard as a four-year-old and other horses left behind in Newmarket include the brilliant Ed Dunlop-trained filly Ouija Board, the dual Oaks and Breeders' Cup heroine, and one of the winter Derby favourites, the Racing Post Trophy winner Motivator.
Those whom Fallon can now look forward to riding this year, however, include three highly regarded three-year-old colts, Ad Valorem, Footstepsinthesand and Grand Central, plus established top-class performers like Antonius Pius and Powerscourt.
Co Clare-born Fallon started his career as an apprentice with Kevin Prendergast in 1983 and rode his first winner, Piccadilly Lord, at Navan the following year. In 1989 he joined the late Jimmy FitzGerald at Malton until joining Lynda Ramsden's yard, also in Yorkshire, whence he rode for four seasons. At the start of 1997, he was the surprise choice as Henry Cecil's stable jockey, a job which ended two years, and five Classic wins, later in acrimonious circumstances. Fallon joined Stoute at the start of 2000, though from 2002 he rode for the powerful yard as a freelance, rather than under contract. As well as the two Derby winners, Stoute supplied top-class mounts like Russian Rhythm, Golan and King's Best.
Some of Stoute's high-profile owners refused Fallon's services because of his personal shortcomings, but eventually came round. The jockey, who has not been charged with any offence by the police, is due to answer bail in April. The other trough in his life came two years ago, when he attended an alcohol rehabilitation clinic.
Fallon had been riding in the United States this winter, based at Gulfstream Park in Florida, a busman's break he suddenly cut short on Monday. Shortly before, he had spoken of his continued commitment to his job with Stoute, presumably taking the role of a football club chairman to the trainer's position as manager.
The Ballydoyle job became vacant when Spencer, who is back in Britain as a freelance and today marries TV racing presenter Emma Ramsden (daughter of Fallon's former employer), resigned on 6 February. Spencer ended the season as Ireland's champion, but endured much criticism during a year that proved one of the weakest in terms of Ballydoyle firepower.Reuse content